In My Opinion: Weighing in on a path to medicine founded in the U.S. Military

In your opinion, how did you experience in the U.S. Armed Forces help prepare you for your current field of medicine? And how do you feel the experience gained from your service helps you in your current practice of medicine?

Most medical students receive very little exposure to medical/surgical eye care, and when I graduated, the specialty of ophthalmology was not on my radar. Since I was undecided, I chose a rotating internship to get more exposure to the major fields of medicine. I was very interested in cardiovascular surgery, and open-heart procedures were in their infancy at that time. Fortunately, since I really loved practicing ophthalmology, I was drafted and had significant exposure to this field during flight surgeon training. Thank you, NAVY. I interviewed and applied for an ophthalmology residency slot before I was deployed to Vietnam.

Frank J. Fischer, MD
Polk County Medical Association Member
Founder, Fischer, Schemmer, Silbiger, and Moraczewski
also known as Ophthalmology Associates, with offices in
Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Haines City, South and North Lakeland and Sebring

Civil Air Patrol [CAP, the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force (USAF)] prepared me for my career in medicine—and for life. The core values of CAP are integrity, excellence, volunteer service, and respect. I can state without question that these core values were instilled in me as a teenager by CAP. As an adolescent, I attended Cadet Officer School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. It was there and at many other activities in CAP that I learned about leadership. These lessons I learned as a teenager in CAP have stayed with me my entire life. What are some of these lessons? Learning that decisions have consequences, and being accountable to those decisions and actions is paramount. Serving your community and country is not only a duty but a privilege. Learning that integrity is more than a choice. It is an adherence to moral and ethical principles that will stand as a guide for your entire life.

CAP, and the men and women who volunteered for this organization, encouraged and sometimes pushed me to accomplish more than I thought I could. They told me I could accomplish anything. Be anything. Do anything. I was a shy and introverted teenager and CAP gave me confidence and the courage to seize the things I sought. The CAP Cadet Program inspired me to strive for more—accomplish more. CAP taught me the value of discipline, plus the truth that you must believe in yourself.

As a teenager with a restricted driver’s license, CAP gave me a flight scholarship and taught me how to fly an airplane. The first day I climbed inside a Cessna 152 with my instructor, I told him I was not sure I could learn how to fly this aircraft. His response was, ‘You’re a cadet officer in CAP; you can learn how to do anything.’

It is a privilege and honor to be a physician. I am fortunate to be in a profession where service, compassion, respect, and integrity are the supreme principles. The values upheld by CAP are critical in my life as a physician, father, husband, and American.

Sergio B. Seoane, MD
Polk County Medical Association Member
Colonel, CAP
Chief, CAP National Health Service
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Senior Aviation Medical Examiner
Family medicine and pulmonary disease physician, Lakeland

My experience in the Navy as a medical officer was one of the best times in my career and, if I had to do it over again, I would do it the same way. My medical training in the Navy helped prepare me for my current practice in three distinct aspects:

First, having gone through medical school at the University of Virginia as an out-of-state student, I would have faced an extraordinary debt upon graduation. I was already in debt for my undergraduate years and my first year of med school. The opportunity arose to enter the Navy’s Health Profession Scholarship Program (HPSP) and I took the plunge. Not having those last three years of med school debt added to my undergraduate debt allowed me to devote full time to my studies and training at a prestigious university. It also enabled me to advance to the next level of my chosen specialty.

The second aspect of my training was the residency years, which was on active duty in the Navy in San Diego. Relocating from Charlottesville to San Diego, on the Navy’s dime, was needless to say a treat. The location was a wonderful place to start raising children. Naval Hospital San Diego was, and I believe still is, the largest military medical facility in the world. Because of that, my training in the specialty of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery was second to none. Typically, residents training in the military are exposed to a broad spectrum of medical and surgical problems, as patients are transferred to the training centers from all over the world. Not only are active duty personnel treated at these facilities, but also their families, as well as retirees. As such, I was fortunate to sit for my surgical boards with more than twice the requisite cases. The other advantage over civilian training is the ability to have more ‘hands-on’ experience. This stems, in part, from decreased liability and the fact that there are no ‘private’ patients like in civilian hospitals. In summary, the more direct patient contact afforded to residents, the better patient outcomes will be in the long term, especially in surgical fields.

Lastly, the third distinctive area was the opportunity to hone my skills in a secure environment before launching completely solo. After the first year of residency, I was appointed the medical officer for a destroyer squadron. This put me in a position to oversee the Independent Duty Corpsmen on multiple ships, approximately 3500 sailors. At times, this was underway at sea. It required me to use the skills taught to me sometimes under adverse conditions. After completing residency, four years later, I had to repay my debt to the Navy for medical school, and spent that time in support of the Marines at Camp Pendleton. It was there I practiced the full scope of my specialty with a fellow ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician, while having the support of the medical center in San Diego down the road, if needed. The time in the fleet and with the Marines allowed me to gain more confidence as an independent surgeon, which definitely helps me today.

I attribute my successes to that training environment. My experience in the Navy, working alongside quality men and women in our Armed Forces, was icing on the cake.

George Lyle, MD
Polk County Medical Association Member
Otolaryngologist, Head and Neck Surgery
Barranco Clinic, with offices in Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Haines City, Lakeland, Ocoee, Sebring, Clermont

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