20 Questions: LTJG Aaron Chambers, DPM, FACFAS

Last Updated on November 22, 2023 by Laura Turner

SDN had the opportunity to speak to Aaron Chambers about his journey as a podiatrist and service in the US Navy and Public Health Service Ready Reserve Corps.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about yourself and your professional journey.

Aaron Chambers: I’m LTJG Aaron Chambers, DPM, FACFAS. I’m currently an officer in the United States Public Health Service Ready Reserve Corps and am a former officer in the United States Navy. I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Missouri and then earned my DPM degree at Western University of Health Sciences. Afterward, I completed my surgical residency at the Loma Linda Veterans Affairs Healthcare Systems and traveled the country as a uniformed service podiatrist. I am currently board-certified in Podiatric Medicine, Foot Surgery, and Reconstructive Rearfoot and Ankle Surgery.

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When did you first decide to become a podiatrist? Why?

This is the most common question I am asked on a daily basis, but I’ve yet to settle on an exact moment when I decided on podiatry. I’ve always known I wanted to go into the health sciences field but was unsure about which profession. When I initially began my undergraduate degree, I chose biology in order to give myself the most options after graduation.

After working several laboratory jobs where I was stuck in a basement, I knew to narrow the list down to professions that had a lot of personal interaction. For me, a job was not only one where I could do work that helped others but also have the satisfaction of having a personal connection with patients. After shadowing several professions, I met several podiatrists and fell in love with the profession.

How/why did you choose the Podiatric Medical school you went to?

I know I’m getting old, but at the time, the College of Podiatric Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences had just enrolled their first class. I had graduated early from the University of Missouri and my brother had invited me to stay with him at a remote camp in Simi Valley, California, which was about an hour’s drive to WesternU. 

As luck (or fate?) would have it, my first interview was with WesternU. I got a chance to meet the founding dean, Lawrence Harkless, as well as several other prominent faculty who are still teaching today. The combined education with the Osteopathic medical students really appealed to me, and I knew it would be my top choice. 

What was the hardest part of Podiatric Medical school for you?

The pace! Compared to an undergraduate degree, there was 100x the information given in a fraction of the time. It was an absolute shock during my first semester, and I didn’t know if I could handle it at the time. Luckily, I was able to fall in with several other students who helped me adapt my study habits and was able to prosper.

What was your favorite part of Podiatric Medical school?

The interprofessional education and the ability to form friendships with many other specialties. During my time at WesternU, our curriculum was systems-based – meaning that all topics, such as pharmacy, pathology, anatomy, etc, were combined for one system, such as Renal or Infectious Disease. As part of this, we had small group breakouts where the DPM students would be placed with the DO students to elaborate on the curriculum.

During this time, I made several great friendships, and the best man at my wedding was actually a now-family medicine physician from this small group. We may disagree about things such as charcoal versus propane for the best grilling experience, but there is no doubt that our time at WesternU really helped forge our friendship.

What surprised you the most about Podiatric Medical school?

The difficulty level of the program. It is absolutely no joke, and if you aren’t able to adapt, you will be in a very tough situation.

What information/advice do you wish you had known when beginning Podiatric Medical school?

I went into the DPM program overconfident, unprepared after years of coasting through undergrad, and arrogant. It was a very humbling experience and one that I needed for my personal and professional life. I like to think I’ve grown from that experience, but if I ever show those former traits, my wife is quick to keep me in line.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a Podiatrist? Why or why not?

Easily. I love what I do both as a podiatrist and as a uniformed service officer. I’m not only able to perform my full scope of practice, but I’m able to travel the country, explore places I’d never ordinarily visit, and meet people who I’d never cross paths with otherwise. With podiatry, I have been able to challenge myself professionally, and with the uniformed services, I have been able to challenge myself personally and have become a better-rounded person because of it.

What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options, and why did you decide what you did?

For me, it was all about meeting the right people. My Naval career began after meeting several residents who were in the military scholarship and who then vouched for me to get into the program. My Public Health Service career is thanks to guidance from a former Navy officer who switched services as well. I was able to start my civilian career as well due to meeting those who care through their kindness and generosity. 

My theory in life, which may be incorrect, is that people don’t care how much you know; they care about how you make them feel. I try to work on that daily.

What did you like most about being a Podiatrist?

My perspective is a bit different as a uniformed service podiatrist. I have really enjoyed the opportunities to not only practice the full scope of my profession but to step outside of my comfort zone and take on different roles I’d never get the opportunity in civilian practice.

Most recently, with the Public Health Service, I was sent to a small island in Alaska to take part in a larger uniformed service health-outreach exercise. There, I was able to not only practice podiatry but also grow my leadership skills. It’s really helped me expand my worldview, and the people I met have had a lasting impact on my professional and personal life.

What do you like least?

From my civilian side of things, I’d say the vast amounts of paperwork and charting needed to run a successful practice. I’d wager that I spend 40% of my time seeing and treating patients, with the other 60% of the time performing administrative work.

Describe a typical day at work in your current position.

After I transitioned out of Active Duty Navy and into the Public Health Service Reserves, I was able to use the board certifications and experience to be employed in several contractor positions throughout Southern California.

Because of this, my civilian practice days vary from week to week. I’d say on average, I am in a busy clinic about three days a week, and in surgery at least once to twice a week. For the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, I am a part of drills once a month, and have been deployed several times across the United States.

On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?

Each week varies, but on average, I would say I work about 50 hours a week. Some weeks a little more, and the occasional week a little less. I firmly believe that the foundation for good health starts with sleep, so I set aside at least eight hours a night for sleep. 

My wife and I have young children as well, so whether or not that actually occurs is another matter.

How satisfied with your income are you now?

I am extremely satisfied with my income. Podiatry has allowed my family and I to enjoy a life I couldn’t have imagined.

There is a lot of “keeping up with the Joneses” in any profession. I focused my early career mainly on building experience, getting board-certified, and growing professionally and personally. Any uniformed service officer will tell you that if you are going into the uniformed services for the money, you are making the wrong decision. 

Once I was able to accomplish the goals I had set for myself in the Navy, I decided to transition to civilian practice to focus more on the business side of the profession. Additionally, with the Public Health Service Ready Reserves, I am still able to enjoy the uniformed service experiences and the impact on the nation as a whole.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?

I did take out student loans, but luckily, due to a Navy scholarship at the time, I was able to have them taken care of in exchange for years of service.

In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself ten years ago?

No man is an island. The only reason I am where I am today is because I was able to meet others who helped me along the way. I was able to join the Navy due to the kindness and mentoring of two podiatry residents I had met, and I was able to continue my service thanks to the mentoring of a former Navy podiatrist who is now a PHS officer. 

From your perspective, what is the biggest challenge or problem in Podiatry today?

It may be my bias, but overall, in the private world, we have seen reimbursements decrease in the previous years, which prevents a challenge to anyone looking to go out and open up shop immediately after residency. The practice landscape is changing from solo practitioners to large groups, so this may be difficult for new graduates.

Where do you see Podiatry in 10 years?

Podiatry has been well-established for decades in the United States. The quality of education, as well as the quality of post-graduate training, continues to improve as well. I see the profession continuing strong and growing into more facets of healthcare.

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?

I focus my outreach work currently as a reserve officer with the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Through their leadership, I am able to directly impact the United States and am proud to be part of this organization.

Do you have a family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?

My wife and I are both podiatrists, and we recently welcomed our daughter into this world. Our schedules allow us plenty of family time, and we have never felt like our family or careers have suffered due to our schedules.

Do you have any final advice for students interested in pursuing Podiatry?

I’m sure in a lot of student’s minds, the first thing they think of with podiatry is fame and rock-star-like status. Getting past bias may be difficult for some, but for those that can, this is an extremely rewarding profession. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t love what I do.

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