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AF doctor leads medical team in Belize

Lt. Col. Steven Acevedo, New Horizons onsite team lead and pediatrician, assists with distributing medications during a medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, May 2, 2014, at the Isabel Palma Polyclinic in San Antonio, Belize. Belizeans received medical care through Belizean health care workers, as well as Canadian and U.S. military care providers. The MEDRETE offers medical health professionals from all three countries the opportunity to train and interact with one another while providing free health care to Belizean residents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar)

Lt. Col. Steven Acevedo, New Horizons onsite team lead and pediatrician, assists with distributing medications during a medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, May 2, 2014, at the Isabel Palma Polyclinic in San Antonio, Belize. Belizeans received medical care through Belizean health care workers, as well as Canadian and U.S. military care providers. The MEDRETE offers medical health professionals from all three countries the opportunity to train and interact with one another while providing free health care to Belizean residents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar)

PUNTA GORDA, Belize (AFNS) --

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Steven Acevedo has enjoyed a variety of assignments in his Air Force career.

For five years, he was a medical laboratory officer before going to medical school while in the Inactive Reserve. After that, he found himself as a pediatrics flight commander until he journeyed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, followed by assignments in Lakenheath, England, and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

His travels continue, as he is now off to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas for a neonatal intensive care fellowship.

 "I'll stay in for 20 years and retire, but I'll make sure I have a well-rounded career before it's time to move on to something else," he said.

 Acevedo already had been accepted to medical school before joining the military, but he said he just wasn't ready to go until he had served as a lab officer for five years. He resigned his commission as a captain to attend school at the University of Texas-Galveston, and then completed his residency at the San Antonio Military Medical Center.

 "It really worked out well, I think," the lieutenant colonel said. "Because I had already been a captain, I got promoted ahead of my peers, so it all catches up."

 A handful of assignments later, Acevedo found himself tasked as the lead for a team of medical providers during the New Horizons Belize 2014 medical readiness training exercise, in the southern Toledo district in Belize.

In Belize, Acevedo and his team of doctors, nurses, technicians and educators from Belize, Canada and the United States provided free medical care to Belizeans. Half of the team's training exercise was spent at a well-established polyclinic in Toledo district taking every available room, chair and bed to bring in patients. The other half of the training exercise was spent in two remote villages far from main roads and hospital comforts.

"Because deployments are so rare for us, missions like these are part of our core competencies as pediatricians," he said. "This is why we decide to get into this field -- to help people." The team offered women's health, optometric, dental, pediatric, and general medical care to anyone able to travel to the event.

New Horizons has been "very, very satisfying," Acevedo said, considering the many people the New Horizons teams were able to help with free health care.

 His job satisfaction, however, extends beyond providing care to people of foreign nations. While his career field does not commonly deploy, he said, he finds immense satisfaction in assisting the families of those who do often deploy.

The circumstances vary. One or both parents may be deployed when a child needs an experienced pediatrician. Acevedo said he has found himself on the home-station side of such circumstances, providing the best care possible to military children. By doing his job well, he added, he can ease parents' concerns when they are deployed and unable to be at their child's bedside.

"It's when the parents call from downrange to say 'thanks' when I've cared for their child, that's when you really feel like you are completing your mission as a pediatrician," he said.

Acevedo said he will continue searching for the next big adventure, never ceasing to learn and expand his knowledge. Though he plans to retire from the military, he added, he doesn't think he'll ever really retire from being a pediatrician.

"Some people say that doctors don't ever retire; they just die," he said. "They never stop being a doctor. They stay in medicine in some capacity, like in training and education. I don't know what I'll do outside of the military, but I know it will be in medicine."

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