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Navy certified nurse midwife epitomizes life of service

Military health personnel wearing a face mask posing for a picture Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cheryl Q. Castro, assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command Bremerton, is the only Navy Nurse Corps officer of Asian American Pacific Islander heritage who is a Certified Nurse Midwife (Photo by: Douglas H Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton).

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Of the approximately 30 certified nurse midwifes in the Navy, there is only one with Asian American Pacific Islander heritage.

May is designated as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, May 6-12 serves as National Nurses Week and May 13 is the Navy Nurse Corps 113th birthday -- at the intersect of these three recognitions is Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cheryl Castro.

"I am the first, and according to our specialty leader, only Filipino active duty Navy Nurse Corps certified nurse midwife (CNM)," said Castro, who is stationed at Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton. "When I found out I was the only active duty Navy CNM of Asian American Pacific Islander heritage I was surprised. However, it's made me extremely proud because diversity is one of the Navy's biggest strengths. It reminds me how the Navy provided me equal opportunity and rooted out bias. It proves to me the Navy continues to reflect the nation's diversity and commitment to treat everyone with dignity and respect."

The San Diego native began her Navy career in 1998 by enlisting to become a hospital corpsman, a decision influenced by her Filipino parents who met in the U.S.

"My mother was a nurse and my father was a machinery repairman. Best of both worlds, medicine and the military," explained Castro. "After high school, I went to college in the hopes of being a nurse. Unfortunately, I did not focus on studying. I joined the Navy at 24 hoping that being a hospital corpsman would give me the opportunity to go back to college and finally get a nursing degree."

Along with her parents, there has also been another inspirational person in her life, from early teens to the present.

"I started dating James, my husband, at the age of 15. Luckily enough he has been my biggest supporter following me wherever our orders sent us. Three children and almost 23 years later we are here in Bremerton," Castro said.

Castro's initial duty station as a hospital corpsman was Naval Medical Center Portsmouth where she became hospital corpsman 3rd class. At her next duty station at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam in 2001 she became a hospital corpsman second class. It was during her third assignment at Naval Medical Center San Diego when she was selected for the Seaman to Admiral Program - Nursing Option.

"I went to Old Dominion University, graduated in 2007," continued Castro. "My first duty station as a Navy Nurse Corps officer was Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms. I took hot-fill orders as a Labor and Delivery nurse back to U.S. Naval Hospital Guam where I was selected for Duty Under Instruction, Midwifery."

She subsequently attended San Diego State University and received her Master's Degree in Women's Nurse Midwifery, followed by her first duty station as a midwife at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in California.

It was during her time just starting her Navy Nurse Corps career at Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms also in California, that she discovered her niche -- providing family-centered care with labor and delivery.

"I started as a labor and delivery nurse and quickly realized it was my forte and true passion. The next step in my progression was to become a midwife. I wanted to be able to provide over all care to my patients, not just come in at the finish line. I wanted to be able to take care of my patients in the prenatal stages," said Castro.

For Castro, her calling as a midwife is captivating and compelling.

"People really don't understand all the different aspects of midwifery. We just don't deliver babies. For example, midwives provide primary care for obstetrical patients. We provide urgent care and triage services on labor and delivery. We can first assist on cesarean sections. We provide contraception care and can conduct screenings, such as pap smears for cervical cancer," explained Castro.

As with other clinics at the military medical treatment facility, helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 has led to providing adjusted and flexible patient care to those in need. The routine protocol for seeing pregnant patients - a nine-visit pathway - has been modified when practical and possible.

"During this pandemic, we have been able to reduce the visits by providing virtual visits according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Defense Health Agency guidelines," said Castro.

She currently leads eight providers, 10 hospital corpsmen and two medical assistants in providing Obstetric and Gynecologic care for more than 10,000 patient visits annually.

With the Navy Surgeon General priority on operational readiness and Navy Medicine core mission of ensuring force medical readiness with a ready medical force, Castro's duty as a midwife contributes directly towards that requirement.

"Midwives provide contraception care, which promotes readiness," stated Castro. "Additionally, pap smears are a part of the Periodic Health Assessment which leads to readiness."

When asked to sum up her experience with Navy Medicine in one sentence, Castro replied, "I have been blessed and honored to serve with amazing people, some that have become family."

Since 1977, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month has been an annual to recognize the achievements - as well as culture, traditions, ancestry, native languages, distinctive abilities - and contributions from more than 56 ethnic groups, proficient in over 100 languages, from Asia and the Pacific Islands who live in the U.S.

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