The Air Force was a natural fit for Ryan McHugh. His father was an Air Force fighter pilot, and Ryan grew up on several different bases. At the encouragement of his father, Ryan joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Being in ROTC made Ryan feel more comfortable at such a large college, and he made lifelong friends. As a bonus for his career, the officer training increased his confidence and his leadership abilities.
"In ROTC, you get some classes on basic leadership and followership ... You get a chance to lead smaller group activities and conduct training of the junior cadets as you become a senior cadet. It's your first chance to really get out there and act as a leader."
After graduating with a degree in physiological sciences, Ryan began fulfilling his service commitment. He went to Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, N.M., to work as a personnel officer for an F-16 fighter jet maintenance squadron. During this time, Ryan applied to medical school and was accepted. Not only did he get in, but the Air Force would also pay for all of his training and education.
"If you want to serve in medicine, that lines up nicely with serving in the Military. You're really doing something for someone else's primary benefit. Sure, you get paid to be a doctor, you get paid to be in the Military, but the guiding light in all that is really to provide for your country and provide for your Air Force."
Today, Ryan works as a pediatrician at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. His work is similar to being a pediatrician in the civilian world, but he notes that there are some important differences.
In ROTC, you get some classes on basic leadership and followership ... You get a chance to lead smaller group activities and conduct training of the junior cadets as you become a senior cadet. It's your first chance to really get out there and act as a leader.
"Some of the specific things that being a pediatrician in the Air Force involves are families who are moving pretty frequently, dealing with mom or dad being gone on a deployment or being gone repeatedly for different deployments ... Even just talking about that a little bit with [the kids] is an important piece of what you do as a general pediatrician."
Although he hasn't been deployed yet, Ryan has applied his training in another country. As part of his military residency training, he went to Honduras and participated in a study on anemia for the nation's Ministry of Health. He ranks that trip as one of his most rewarding military assignments.
"I really enjoyed the chance to go to another country and see their culture and have to put on a different hat in terms of how you approach things medically."
Ryan has already enjoyed many achievements, but he is working toward a new goal - becoming a flight doctor. In this position, he will be the one who clears the pilots, the navigators and anyone else on board the plane for flight.
"You want to make sure that you understand how being in that altitude or pulling g's [gravitational forces] or other forces of flight may affect them ... A lot of it is making sure that there aren't any issues that will incapacitate them while they're at their duty in an aircraft."
This role will give Ryan the perfect opportunity to merge his work with his love of flying. He completed private pilot training and now flies a two-seater Van's Aircraft kit-built plane to cities like Colorado Springs, New Orleans and Houston.
"The other thing I really enjoy about flying is the technical challenge ... You're never going to be perfect and know everything. You can always learn more and more and get better and better as time goes on. That's a very rewarding experience."
Learning more and more has been a theme in Ryan's life. By taking advantage of the Military's educational opportunities, Ryan has been able to reach new heights as a doctor and a pilot, and he will continue to carve out an Air Force career that is all his own.
To learn more about serving as a physician in the Military, visit Medicine + the Military.