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Monday Jun 11, 2018

Military Experience Shaped Me as Physician, Leader, Person

I was recently asked by a military medical recruiter why I joined the U.S. Army Reserve. Looking back, I recall wanting to join the military after high school, but then life happened and my dream was deferred.

[physician in uniform with stethoscope and doctor's coat]

Two decades later, I was in my first year of family medicine residency in Columbia, S.C., when 9/11 shocked our nation. I watched the devastation unfold on my television and felt an overwhelming sense of futility as nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. Shortly thereafter, a medical recruiter approached me, and I jumped at the second chance to enlist.

The recruiter offered not only the opportunity to serve my country, but also attractive incentives such as loan repayment and a monthly stipend during residency. Like many of my residency colleagues, debt from my medical education was a huge concern, and I was eager to lighten the load of that burden.

Sixteen years later, I am still in the U.S. Army Reserve and cannot think of a better way to serve my country and patients. As physicians, we are committed to service and leadership. The military has granted me the opportunity to grow as a leader by allowing me to work with and learn from some of the best clinicians in the world.

I have worked in a health network that is truly second to none. It provides health care to all who serve or have served and their families. The military has a single-payer health system that is far different from the complex system I work with on the civilian side, wrought by prior authorizations, red tape and other barriers to care.

As a reservist, I have been called on to serve all over the country and usually for no more than 90 days at a time. These experiences provide a much-needed break from the intricacies and frustrations of the community health system. In fact, one colleague told me that reserve duty addressed the burnout he experiences in his everyday practice.

I have been introduced to some of my most trusted mentors, met lifelong friends, and learned what it means to lead by example. I have practiced medicine with state-of-the-art equipment, and I have learned to improvise in situations where resources are scarce. I cherish these experiences, which have shaped me into who I am today both personally and professionally.

People often ask me why more physicians aren't lining up to serve. The answer is that military service isn't for everyone, but it is a viable option for many. Many of our past and current AAFP leaders have served in the military, and I want to express my appreciation for them and to all our members who have served and/or are currently serving.

As Military Appreciation Month neared its conclusion over Memorial Day weekend, I reflected on all the soldiers -- active duty, reserve, retirees -- I have had the privilege of knowing, treating and serving with. The Army has done much more than keep me physically fit; it has kept me mentally and spiritually well.

I am proud to wear both my white coat and my military uniform, and each day I strive to live up to the standards and values that they each represent.

Ada Stewart, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 02:03PM Jun 11, 2018 by Ada Stewart, M.D.

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