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Air Force award recognizes excellence of JBSA-Randolph physical therapist

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Feb. 21, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —

Jason Wheeler, a member of the 559th Medical Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, set his sights on a career in the health care profession when he was in his teens.

After spending many hours as a patient in physical therapy clinics for treatment of sports injuries throughout high school and college, he narrowed his choice.

“My motivation to become a physical therapist started in college after talking to a classmate about my third knee surgery,” he said. “He helped me get a job at a clinic to make sure I liked working with patients, and I really felt like it was something I would love to do with a career in health care.”

Nearly five years into his career as physical therapist for the 559th MDS Diagnostics and Therapeutics Flight – following 10 years in the civilian sector – Wheeler’s dedication to his profession has earned him recognition as the Air Force Medical Service’s Biomedical Clinician Civilian of the Year.

It’s an honor that is richly deserved, said his flight chief, Master Sgt. Jeremiah Taylor.

“It is a huge accomplishment and one that he definitely worked hard for and deserves,” he said. “I am very proud to say that I have worked with him.”

Taylor called Wheeler “a very knowledgeable physical therapist who has passion for what he does every day.”

“He cares about the care that he provides to patients and communicates very well,” Taylor said. “He is also a great leader who elevates the level of care provided by others who work around him.”

Wheeler said he was “shocked” when he learned about the AFMS award.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “But all the bullet points were from things I do with my co-workers, so it’s really a team effort.”

After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Wheeler started his career in the civilian sector, but it wasn’t until he came to JBSA-Randolph in 2015 that he found a more flexible facility where he could truly expand his skills.

Wheeler said he can order imaging without asking a primary care manager; refer patients directly to orthopedics, pain management or neurosurgery instead of making them wait or go back to their PCM; and treat patients without being bound to the single body part for which they received a referral.

“Most important to me is the fact that active-duty service members have direct access to refer themselves to physical therapy without a consult from their PCM or other specialist, which eliminates any delay in getting them back to work and back to the fight,” he said.

JBSA-Randolph is special to Wheeler for other reasons as well.

“I have met many people who will be lifelong friends during my time here and also from visiting my wife (Maj. Sarah Wheeler) when she was flight commander of the dental clinic,” he said. “My children are taken care of at the pediatrics clinic and I have been a patient across the hall at flight medicine, so I have experienced JBSA-Randolph as a provider, patient and parent.”

Wheeler’s professional development also accelerated when he worked at a civilian clinic, Promotion Physical Therapy in San Antonio, prior to joining the staff at the JBSA-Randolph clinic.

“They utilize the most up-to-date evidence-based guidelines for practice and my career wouldn't be anything like it is now had I not worked for them,” he said.

After starting work at the Randolph clinic, Wheeler completed his training at Promotion PT clinics to become a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists.

“I was able to practice my skills on patients at Randolph with constant feedback and critique from my mentor, Dr. Autumn Martens,” he said. “My flight commander, Maj. Joanna Borawski, worked with my schedule to allow me time during the week to spend time at Promotion PT.”

The Promotion PT owners allowed him to complete his fellowship training through their company even though he was no longer employed by them, Wheeler said.

“I can honestly say that any patient who has been happy with the care they received from myself and my team at Randolph should thank Promotion Physical Therapy because without them, I wouldn’t have the knowledge or skills to provide the unique specialized care that we are known for at JBSA-Randolph,” he said.

In addition to his skills as a physical therapist, Wheeler brings other traits to his job, Taylor said. Among them are his work ethic and his rapport with people.

“Dr. Wheeler doesn’t limit himself to a solid schedule every day,” he said. “If a patient really needs care, he goes out of his way to see them. It doesn’t matter if it is earlier in the morning, his lunch time or later in the day. He has all the qualities of a great leader.”
Wheeler always listens to his patients’ situation, then takes time to educate them on ways to get better, Taylor said.

“He then goes the extra mile by always being available when patients need to ask a question or their condition changes and they are just worried,” he said.

Wheeler also ensures that pilots and security forces members are able to meet their mission requirements, Taylor said.

“Dr. Wheeler was able to find ways to treat these populations at times their units would allow with minimal time away from their work centers,” he said. “He has been a huge blessing to the JBSA-Randolph clinic.”