Perspectives: The Call of Duty
There are few things in one’s life that compare to answering the call to serve in the United States Armed Forces. In this week’s blog post, Tameka Pyles, MD (currently deployed in Afghanistan) gives us insight on her decision to enter the Armed Forces and the current path it takes her on — saving lives.
I graduated from medical school and was extremely proud of myself for staying committed to what I wanted, despite the sacrifices I had to make along the way. I thought, “I am a doctor now”. Young and professional. Black and female. Now, getting to this point and achieving such greatness does not come cheap. I was rewarded for my hard work in high school with a full scholarship to college. Great for me and, even better for my parents.
So when it came time to go to medical school, I thought “why should I pay for this”? I’ve made it this far and owe no debts, I certainly don’t want to start now. Enter – United States Military. I was inspired by my older brother who is an active duty physician and had his medical school expenses paid for by the Navy. I researched what it was all about, and it seemed like a good option compared to taking out loans. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision myself joining the military….at all…period. But here I am, almost 8 years later, active duty and an officer in the US Navy.
The process was rather easy and painless: I provided my recruiter with the necessary academic information and a medical school acceptance letter. Stamped, approved. I was commissioned an officer just as I graduated college. The Navy fronted the tuition for medical school, in addition to covering the cost for books and providing a monthly stipend that mostly took care of the rest. After graduation and finally being able to put the “M.D.” behind my name, my military career began. I did my internship at a military hospital, which is a pretty normal hospital. Sure, you have young healthy service members coming and going and people in uniform at every turn (including yourself). But you also have veterans, wounded warriors, and family members on your patient panel. All things considered, this provided a unique learning environment as a brand new doctor.
From there, I went on to complete a tour of 2 years as a General Medical Officer (GMO) with the United States Marine Corps. Yet another remarkable experience, where I was able to function as the subject matter expert for a battalion of over 2000 Marines and Sailors. While it may seem unappealing to some to break up internship and residency training, I made the choice to postpone applying for residency to allow myself this time to grow as a physician. I wanted to learn to trust and have confidence in myself and my decisions, and to additionally understand how and when to ask for help. This, in my opinion, is one of the best services you can provide to your patients.
Next step: residency. I completed my residency in anesthesia at a military hospital as well. While our hospital may not have offered everything that you read about in textbooks, we were exposed to a variety of specialty services by way of outside rotations. Despite the very steep learning curve and drinking from the infamous firehose in the beginning, my 3 years of training was good (I can’t say great or amazing because well, its residency). I worked with staff members that were not only good at what they do, but also many that were active duty service members. After residency, I moved to sunny Florida (one of the perks of being in the Navy, pretty great duty stations) and now I get to do what I spent years working for and doing it with the added benefit of being able to keep troops healthy and on the ready.
Most recently, I took my turn in the deployed theater. To perform in a setting like that is a truly inspiring and humbling opportunity. While it is your hope not to see any Americans come through your door, you can take pride in knowing that you played a part in providing that individual much needed, emergency care and eventually arriving home – alive. Unfortunately, the end result is not the same for everyone, a fact that I will never forget. The experience has given me a new and amazing appreciation for all service members and the incredible sacrifices that are made. I have spent the majority of my training and short career in military facilities and I can say that it gives me no greater satisfaction than to know that I am not only helping to save a life, but that life also belongs to someone that made the courageous choice to put theirs on the line to ensure the freedom and protection we all enjoy.
Tameka Pyles, MD