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7 Things I Learned About Practicing Medicine in the Army

Written by: Neelum T. Aggarwal, M.D.

On December 3, the AMWA Diversity & Inclusion committee hosted a webinar featuring a panel of three Army physicians that generated a lot of discussion from our participants as well as some ‘AHA’ moments from me, which surprised me a bit as I have had some connection with the military. My husband is a Lt. Col. in the Army medical Reserve and I am on the board for the Westside Institute for Science and Education (, an organization housed in the Jesse Brown VA dedicated to providing resources regarding education and research to our veterans, so naturally, I thought I knew a fair bit about the military, military medicine and what Army medicine had to offer.

Well I was wrong. I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, so I put together a short list of some takeaways for you to review and also encourage readers to check out the webinar to learn more:

1. Leadership Opportunities: The Army is a great place for women healthcare providers – and provides many opportunities for leadership roles. Take for example, The Surgeon General of the Army, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho. Lt. Gen. Horoho, a nurse, leads the entire U.S. Army Medical Department (including medicine, dentistry, nursing, veterinarians and specialty providers like physical therapists and podiatrists) and thus can influence not only specialty specific initiatives but larger “organization-wide” initiatives, such as the Performance Triad – a program that stresses the importance of activity, nutrition and sleep as essential to improving the health of our Soldiers, civilians and families.

2. Competitive Salary: Capt. Jennifer Sabino, a general surgery resident, spoke about the financial advantages of her Army service. During medical school, she received a comprehensive scholarship (Health Professions Scholarship Program) that paid her medical school tuition, her textbook costs and a stipend. As a resident, she receives a salary that allows her to live more comfortably than many of her fellow residents who have gone through the traditional residency programs.

3. Conduct Research: Physicians in the Army have many opportunities to conduct medical research. Another webinar panelist, Lt. Col. Molly Klote, works as a special assistant on clinical research for the Army Surgeon General. She spoke about her efforts to streamline the Army’s research processes and support the more than 1,600 open research projects at Army Medical Centers. I was taken aback as to how many projects are being conducted in the Army and was happy to hear that this was an active division of the Army, with institutional support.

4. Innovation in Technology: Many of the research projects conducted by the Army include clinical trials, but also innovation in technology. Many innovations that have advanced medical care this century originated in the Army, in areas including trauma care, orthopedics, infectious disease and rehabilitation. Capt. Sabino added that as a resident she has been given the opportunity to pursue her research passions and present papers at national meetings like the American College of Surgeons (as well as an international conference in India next year), and publish in peer-reviewed journals.

5.  Flexibility to Make Your Own Career: I was struck by how different the career path was for each panelist and how many options she had. Lt. Col. Laurel Neff, a family physician, is currently in a hospital leadership role. Capt. Sabino is getting ready to pursue a fellowship in plastic surgery at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Klote, an immunologist, is in a policy position. Three women, three different careers, and all have benefited from the leadership opportunities afforded by the Army.

6. Questions regarding deployment and the “threat” of being deployed were also answered by the panelists. No deployments abroad for persons in training can occur, and if deployed after training it does not necessarily mean you are literally ‘ in the field” of conflict. You may be in a base camp away from the activity and offer medical assistance when the wounded are brought in. In fields such as Pediatrics, a deployment may entail a humanitarian effort abroad as opposed to a surgeon who may be deployed to offer surgical services in the field itself.

7. U.S. Army = Large Health Care System: What many people do not understand is that the Army is one of the world’s largest health systems and that makes it possible for a motivated physician to chart her own path locally or globally. This is especially attractive for training opportunities in today’s medical environment, as global health and global health issues are becoming local issues.

Want to learn more about what was discussed on this webinar? Click here and check out this site, recommended by our presenters.

AMWA’s D and I Section and Military Subcommittee are looking for members to join the Committee. Interested? Find more information here.

Cherilyn Cecchini

Cherilyn is proud to serve as the National AMWA Blog Coordinator this year. She is currently a fourth year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. Cherilyn recently served as co-president of her local Jefferson AMWA branch. In addition, she was chosen as National Secretary of the AMWA Student Division the year before last. She feels strongly about advancing women's health and is extremely thankful for both the networking and scholastic opportunities that AMWA continues to offer.

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