New Mexico Aerospace Medicine Program Led by CHDS Alum

To say that Jake Debevec’s career arc has been meteoric is hardly hyperbolic.

Jake Debevec

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security Emergence Program alum has skyrocketed from working for the University of New Mexico (UNM) Hospital Emergency Department as a transporter straight out of high school to University of New Mexico School of Medicine faculty and, most recently, as Senior Director of Aerospace Medicine for the University Health System in Albuquerque, NM. 

He’s done all that by the ripe old age of 25. 

And, he says his CHDS educational experience actually helped him realize his full potential.

Debevec (Emergence Program cohort 2201), who currently serves as appointed faculty in Emergency Medicine and Emergency Medical Services, was appointed to lead the University’s Center for Aerospace Medicine last year. 

The Center is dedicated to advancing the field of Aerospace Medicine and providing services that benefits NASA, International and Commercial Astronauts by collaborating with national and international space agencies and commercial space companies to pioneer innovative approaches to space medicine, while offering medical guidance to astronauts throughout their missions. 

Debevec said the Center “aims to bring the highest level of medical care to the aerospace industry and crew members,” deploying a team with a cadre of physician, paramedic, nurse, and advanced practice providers who bring advanced medical capabilities directly to the landing site of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner at landing sites in rural New Mexico. The spacecraft will be the first space capsule to land on U.S. soil since the shuttle program.

Noting that the program originated through a partnership working on medical care for the NASA Commercial Crew Program, Debevec said the mission is “executed long before landing, and even before launch.”

The UNM Aerospace Medicine Team posed outside of the Crew Medical Vehicle at a Mission Dress Rehearsal for the Boeing CST-100 Starliner program, taken at Launch Complex 32.

He explained that he works alongside the Medical Director, NASA Flight Surgeons, Boeing Medical Team, and the space medicine teams from other academic and Level 1 trauma centers supporting the program. Together, he said, they have developed a model that allows for advanced care to be readily available to NASA, International, and Commercial Astronauts landing in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. UNM Health paramedics and physicians staff the helicopter that would transport injured astronauts to UNM Hospital, where they would be received by a team of Critical Care and Trauma Surgery clinicians that are a vital component of the Aerospace Medicine program. 

“In my role, I work to bring all of the clinical areas of the health system into the picture, and their support is critical to our selection as the field care team and care facility for critically injured astronaut crew.” he said. “From the doors of the emergency room, up to our Operating Suites, every component of the care of the crew relies on dedicated and committed leaders who choose to work at UNM Health. In our meetings, a trauma surgeon who would operate on a patient sits beside a security guard responsible for ensuring the astronauts are given privacy and next to them a pharmacist who is preparing cases of medications to send out to the landing site. This collaboration, which serves New Mexicans everyday, will be used to deliver excellent care to space crew should they need it.”

Meanwhile, Debevec noted that, as New Mexico’s only academic health complex, the UNM Health System mission “extends beyond delivering care, but also in educating the next generation of healthcare providers. Between lunar and planetary exploration, low earth orbit, and commercial space ventures, humans are more often involved in the future of exploration in space. Where there are people, there is medicine. A new elective offered through the UNM School of Medicine will create opportunities for learners to grow their knowledge in this field and build skills that help the aerospace medicine industry. Paramedic and physician learners alike have been able to travel to exercises and real-world operations to learn from experienced aerospace medicine practitioners and see first-hand what the specialty entails.”

The Starliner space capsule in the desert of New Mexico, having just landed as part of its Orbital Flight Test 2. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch again on 6 May 2024 with two U.S. Astronauts aboard, its return will make history as the first American-made orbital crew capsule to land on land.

Debevec credited the UNM Health System for investing in his education and his development as a professional, “through every step of my career.” 

That support includes his selection in 2021 to apply for and attend the CHDS Emergence Program with the University’s support and the understanding that “exposure to that caliber of program would certainly help further the mission of New Mexico’s premier academic health complex,” he said.

“While at CHDS, I was exposed to a cohort of professionals that challenged me in the best ways possible, who helped me to a potential I had not yet discovered in myself, and many of whom have been there to support my professional growth long after departing Monterey,” he said. “The facilitators and faculty in the program pushed me to think differently about complex problems, and opened the door to resources that I would have never had without them. The mentorship through CHDS has come from my peers just as much as the faculty, I truly walked away with 30 subject matter experts all across America that have been there to guide me. As a faculty member in the School of Medicine, I deploy CHDS resources in every course I teach. Whether the Self-study modules or the Homeland Security Digital Library, I have found a resource that allows the mission of CHDS and the mission of UNM to align with my students in the driver’s seat.”

Debevec added, “The opportunity to work alongside the physician leadership to found and develop the Aerospace Medicine program at UNM is one for which I am forever grateful for, and I know that so many of the skills I have can be attributed to the time I spent at CHDS.”

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment |, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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