After almost 30 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, retired Colonel Laura Talbot, PhD, EdD, RN, continues to serve her country in a research lab at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).
Dr. Talbot is a professor in the Department of Neurology in the College of Medicine at UTHSC, and has dedicated her research to finding ways to help active-duty military live healthier, pain-free lives.
The TriService Nursing Research Program has helped her do that through several major grants totaling approximately $1.7 million.
Her research has ranged from testing electromyostimulation and strength walking as a treatment for knee injuries among service members, to improving strength and function for amputees wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, to developing lifestyle activities to promote fitness among those serving in the National Guard.
The latest grant totals $622,030 over a three-year period that began in 2015. It will allow Dr. Talbot to research best practices to self-manage patellofemoral pain syndrome — pain in and around the front of the knee — in active-duty military. This research, to be conducted at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, is especially important as the condition, also known as “runner’s knee,” is the most common diagnosis among active-duty military presenting in the ambulatory care setting, probably as a result of rigorous training.
Dr. Talbot and her research team will compare the results of three home-managed treatment regimens — neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and a combination of the two treatments — versus a standard home exercise program. The hypothesis is that NMES combined with TENS will produce greater improvements in muscle strength and mobility and reduction of pain than does home exercise alone.
Ask Dr. Talbot why she does the research work she does, and her answer is simple. “Because the interventions we research are deployable, and the servicemen can take them with them and use them wherever they are stationed,” she says. “Our goal is to improve strength, decrease pain and improve quality of life.”
Dr. Talbot joined the Air Force soon after receiving her nursing degree. “I wanted to see the world, and serve,” she says. “I started at the bottom as a lieutenant and worked my way up.” She began her military career at Travis Air Force Base in California as a staff nurse on a medical/surgical floor.
Upon completing active duty, she joined the reserves. At Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, she worked as a staff nurse. At the same time, she served as an assistant and an associate university professor, setting up her parallel clinical and academic career paths.
She achieved the rank of colonel at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. And she has held several military leadership positions over the years, including serving as Air Force medical commander responsible for 138 health care professionals in a stand-alone medical clinic at General Mitchell Air Reserve Station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The station received several prestigious awards for organizational excellence under her leadership.
In her final military position, Dr. Talbot served on the Air Staff at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where she was the principal adviser to the Assistant Air Force Surgeon General for Nursing Services.
Dr. Talbot’s ties to the military go back to her childhood. Her father was in the Air Force for 20 years. Her husband, retired Colonel Jeff Metter, MD, served more than 30 years in the Army Reserves as a neurologist. He is a professor of Neurology in the College of Medicine at UTHSC.
Two sons and a son in law are in military service.
Dr. Talbot’s pride in her military service and theirs is evidenced by the Blue Star Service Flag hanging in the window of her UTHSC office. She displayed the same flag during one son’s deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
She readily says she misses her military service, but treasures her continued connection and the ability to contribute.
“I feel fortunate that I can continue through my research to give back, because it was such an honor to serve almost 30 years.”