FALLS CHURCH, Va. — U.S. Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Markelz, currently Chief of the Infectious Disease Service at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas, is the 2022 recipient of Physician Award from the Society of Federal Health Professionals, referred to as AMSUS,. The AMSUS awards are presented at the AMSUS Annual Meeting which will instead be a virtual in 2022 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Lt. Col. Markelz is a preeminent physician scientist, an operationally focused physician, and has a proven track record of leadership and patient safety”, said Air Force Lt. Col. Alice Barsoumian, Director, San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium Infectious Disease Fellowship Program and Associate Professor of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, BAMC.
Markelz who also chairs the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium (SAUSHEC)’s Military Readiness Committee took the Chief of Infectious Disease position in August 2020, which was six months into the coronavirus pandemic.
“In January 2020, we knew COVID was a problem elsewhere,” said Markelz. “We knew it was going to get here. We started pulling out our Ebola and flu policies. And the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) had a hospital preparedness document that was very helpful. We met with hospital leaders and stakeholders. We developed a screen, treat, and move system.”
Markelz remembered the first surge of infections in summer 2020 as the most challenging. She explained that was a period of uncertainty and very resource intensive. “Everybody wanted information that we didn’t have,” she said.
“It was such a crazy time,” she said. “Do we test everyone who comes in to the hospital? Do we test everyone who gets a procedure? Do we have enough supplies? Gowns? Masks? We were concerned about conserving N95 masks and disinfecting. We had to develop policies from nothing. But we got there.”
By the end of 2020, COVID vaccines were becoming available, and she said they managed better. What became difficult as different variants and waves of the virus continued to rage is seeing young people die and seeing the toll the disease was taking on the unvaccinated. She said that the Omicron variant of the disease brought the highest amount of hospital admissions they’d seen since the start of the pandemic. “Resilience has been great,” she said. “But seeing young people die has been hard on our healthcare workers. I can see the fatigue.”
Markelz, who joined the active-duty force in 2006 came in as part of the Health Professionals Scholarship Program. “My dad was in the Navy,” she said. “So I wanted a relationship with the military, but I did not have a relationship with water and ships,” she laughed. So the Army became her choice. “The Army had more medical facilities. They had more residencies in internal medicine. The Army was also more proactive in recruiting me. They sold themselves the best to me, and they made it easy for me. If I wanted it, I could have it. The Army had the largest training facilities for internal medicine, which is what I knew I wanted to do,” she said.
Markelz said she is humbled by the AMSUS honor. “I don’t like to be recognized,” she said. “I love it when my team gets recognized. Nothing occurred from my own efforts. So much is about the team. I’ve had the benefit of having amazing mentors and sponsors. And I get to work with them.”
Markelz said she is surrounded by the best physicians. “I don’t know if everyone gets to go to work and be inspired by their colleagues,” she said. “They teach me. And I’m ready to absorb it all. My team is strong. That makes my job easy and very fulfilling.”
BAMC’s hospital commander Brig. Gen. Murray has served as one of Markelz inspirations. “I’m very grateful for him,” she said. “He recruited me for infectious disease. He has always kept me engaged. I wouldn’t be in the Army if it weren’t for him.”
Some of Markelz’ many other recognitions include Col. Ramey Wilson Army Operational Medicine Award, Tri-service ACP award, 2021; Finalist, Lt. Gen. Paul K. Carlton, Jr. Award, 2021; Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society — Uniformed Services Chapter, 2020; and the Most Valued Instructor Recognition by Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences student, 2019.The virtual AMSUS annual meeting and award ceremony will be held Feb. 22-25, 2022.