David J. Zelinskas, DO, MPH
Family Physician, TPMG Indian River Family Practice; Lieutenant Commander, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy Reserves
As Dr. David Zelinskas watched a television report on the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, he knew another assignment in his Navy career was coming.
President Donald Trump had called on military physicians to help staff emergency field hospitals in large convention centers nationwide. Dr. Zelinskas was soon on his way to New York City, with just three days’ notice.
For two months, Dr. Zelinskas and a team of providers from across the country cared for recently-discharged hospital patients at the city’s Javits Center, helping them gain strength to return home.
“There were many unknowns and fears about the virus then, but you were just doing your job – contributing to the mission,” he says. “It was a time for the medical side of our military to really shine.”
Dr. Zelinskas, a family medicine provider for Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group in Chesapeake, joined the Navy in 2010 and was on active duty for eight years, including a nine-month deployment to the Persian Gulf in 2014 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He transitioned to the Navy Reserves five years ago and currently serves as the Officer in Charge for EMF Bethesda Norfolk Detachment.
An Iowa native, Dr. Zelinskas had two goals by college: be a primary care physician and serve his country. Inspirations included his grandfather, a Navy World War II veteran; his father, a Marines Corps veteran; and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Dr. Zelinskas majored in biology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. While shadowing a family medicine provider during an internship, he met a 16-year-old patient whose chart described cold symptoms. His longtime family doctor knew otherwise.
“This boy was homeless, an alcoholic and abused, and he came in every few months just to get away from life,” Dr. Zelinskas recalls. “He wasn’t sick; he needed to talk. The doctor asked, ‘How are you really doing?’ and the kid just started crying. I realized I wanted to be that doctor who knew my patients’ stories.”
Dr. Zelinskas earned a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from Des Moines University and completed his family medicine training at Puget Sound Family Medicine Residency at Naval Hospital Bremerton, Wash. He later added a Master of Public Health from Des Moines University.
For two years, Dr. Zelinskas was stationed onboard the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) as Division Officer for the Medical Department. He cared for more than 5,000 active-duty service members, including fighter pilots during his Persian Gulf deployment, while leading a team of four providers and mentoring 35 corpsmen.
“You learn to work with people of many backgrounds, sometimes with limited resources,” he notes. “You might be in a tent in the middle of nowhere or on a ship hundreds of miles from any coastline, but you take the best care of your patients no matter what.”
From 2015 to 2017, Dr. Zelinskas was Department Head of Primary Care at Naval Station Norfolk Branch Health Clinic. He managed 25 providers and 60 support staff with 21,000-plus active-duty, retiree and dependent beneficiaries; he also oversaw 40 Independent Duty Corpsmen for Naval Medical Center Portsmouth as IDC Program Manager.
At TPMG, Dr. Zelinskas sees patients from infancy through adulthood. He also serves as a family medicine clinical adjunct faculty member at Liberty University and Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Dr. Zelinskas has two daughters with his wife, a physician at TPMG-Foot and Ankle, and is an avid runner and triathlete. While his activation to New York was last-minute, he felt the usual sense of pride in service.
“Every night at 7 p.m., people were clapping, playing music and banging on pans hanging out their windows to thank us,” he relates. “It was an honor to be a part of it all.”