The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Navy, Department of Defense, or the US Government.
When I accepted my commission into the United States Navy as a first year medical student, I was focused on the good I could do for others. I was excited to use my medical education and clinical skills to care for those who protect and defend the freedoms of the United States. What did not realize, was how much the practice of military medicine would, in turn, give to me as a physician.
When surrounded by other medical students, residents, and attending physicians, my story always sounds a bit different. Prior to starting my first year of medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), I attended Office Development School in Newport, Rhode Island. I was taught, alongside dentists, lawyers, and other staff corps officers, how to be a Naval Officer before I ever set foot in a medical school classroom. The importance of honor, courage, and commitment to the Constitution and the nation was emphasized before any anatomy was ever memorized. Upon completion of this six week training, I reported to USUHS to undertake my medical education.
Even while at USUHS, our traditional medical school curriculum was supplemented with operational medicine classes and exercises. As first and fourth year medical students, we went to a weeklong field exercise to learn battlefield triage, patient movement, and care under fire. The simulated war environment involved running a mass casualty drill in a field tent with dozens of simulated patients lying on the ground screaming in pain with realistic makeup and cut suits that allowed us to perform chest tubes, needle decompressions, and other live-saving field medicine procedures.
After medical school, I completed my internship in General Surgery at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. My year of more traditional hospital-based medicine was short-lived. After completion of intern year, I was sent on what the Navy calls a General Medical Officer tour as a Flight Surgeon. I attended several months of training in Pensacola, Florida alongside Student Naval Aviators. I was given the opportunity to sit beside them in the training for Navy pilots. This included being submerged underwater while strapped into a helicopter and having to practice escaping, and even several training flights in both propeller planes and helicopters at the controls. I was also given training on how to function not only as an independent physician, but a medical department head for my upcoming assignment.
I was then sent to a Carrier Air Wing to take care of patients in several squadrons of F/A-18 jets. I hit the ground running as not only the primary care provider for hundreds of pilots, aircrew, and sailors, but also as an occupational medicine specialist for dozens of specific jobs and a subject matter expert on all things medical to advise my commanding officer. I deployed onboard an aircraft carrier, responding to medical emergencies and even assisting with a testicular detorsion surgery while underway hundreds of miles off the Pacific coast.
I am excited to be returning to residency in the next year to get back into the hospital environment, become board certified, and continue the career path I had originally intended, but these past 10 years have offered me more than I could have ever anticipated. How many other radiologists will be able to say they flew in an F/A-18 off an aircraft carrier after seeing morning sick call? How many other second year residents can say they not only practiced independently for several years, but were literally the only doctor for hundreds of miles around with responsibility for the safety of all involved in an tactical military exercise?