BAUMHOLDER, Germany – Hugh Dowd is a nurse. It is literally all he’s ever wanted to be, and he’s spent the last 41 years doing what he loves.
Dowd, an occupational health nurse assigned to the U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder in Germany, will retire in February after 30 years of civilian service for the Department of Defense.
When Hugh Dowd was asked why he became a nurse, he simply stated, "I was born a nurse."
Nursing brought him happiness. All he ever wanted to be was a registered nurse, "taking care of patients in hospital beds," but life had other plans in store for him.
He attended Southern Vermont College for nursing and joined the U.S. Navy when he was 25 years old. “The Navy changed my life," says Dowd. "I never thought I would be more than a floor nurse, but little did I know I would end up working in pediatrics or occupational health."
During his time in the Navy, he earned pediatric experience while working in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Dowd says he is thankful for all the opportunities the Navy offered.
In the early years of his nursing career he served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, where he says he truly enjoyed serving, taking care of the patients, and giving back to his country.
"I met my husband of thirty years while we were both serving during the first gulf war. If it was up to us, we’d still be in the Military."
The U. S. military formerly excluded gay men, bisexuals, and lesbians from service.
"At that time, we had no other choice than to get out," Dowd said. "But the Military has come a long way. It makes me happy seeing that everyone can serve now."
Upon discharge from the Navy, his education and service earned him an offer for a position as a school nurse at the United States Uniformed Services University where he would spend the next ten years of his career.
In 2000, he was asked to help open a Family Medicine Department at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Once it opened, he performed work in various administrative assignments, including occupational health and case management.
He was passionate about pediatric nursing and went back to it for another couple of years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"But [Washington] D.C. wears you out," Dowd said. "D.C. is great when you’re young, but I am older. The U.S. Army Health Clinic in Vicenza, Italy, was looking for a Nurse Manager of Pediatrics and Italy couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a great change of scenery from the fast-paced life we had in D.C."
After living three years in Europe, Dowd was pulled back to his home country once more.
"I didn’t have a significant background in occupational health, but the Natural History and Zoo departments at the Smithsonian Museum was looking for an Occupational Health Nurse with a pediatric background, which I definitely had," Dowd said.
Dowd explains that children frequently get hurt at a museum. They climb on things they should not or choke on hot dogs if you do not pay attention. At the same time, he prepared staff to work in difficult situations and lift heavy artifacts.
"It kept me on my toes. Every day, it was like trying to uncover a mystery. How can we keep employees healthy and safe while they are at work? How can we reduce and manage risk at the workplace?"
His role at the Smithsonian prepared him for working in the OH field for the military.
In 2015, he returned to Europe as the Public Health Command Europe Occupational Health Nurse for the Baumholder region. In that role, he was responsible for guiding occupational health care for Active Duty, Department of the Army Civilians, and the host nation workforce.
During his career Dowd was awarded with five Civilian Meritorious Service Medals: two form the Defense Health Agency, two from the Army, and one from the Navy.
Dowd says his career has been rewarding and he enjoys his current role at PHCE, but he is not getting any younger and ready for a break after all these years of government service.
"I am excited to move to the South of France with Jim, where we bought an apartment not far from the beach," says Dowd. "I will sleep in until 8 o’clock, get some rest, and volunteer at a Catholic hospital for sick children."