Career Field: Health Care Practitioners (Officer)
The physical health of military personnel is crucial. Officers in the Health Care Practitioners field are the doctors, nurses and surgeons who keep service members in top physical health. They address areas of physical well-being including dental, pharmaceutical, surgical, optical, speech, dietary and more. Careers in this field generally require an advanced medical degree. The Military offers a great place for medical school graduates to gain real-life experience at a faster rate than in civilian practices.
To learn more about serving as a physician in the Military, visit Medicine + the Military.
- Useful Fields of Study
- Biology, Nutrition, Physical Therapy, Internal Medicine
- Helpful Attributes
- Desire to help others, Good eye/hand coordination, Strong communication skills, Being calm under pressure
The physical health of military personnel is crucial. Officers in the Health Care Practitioners field are the doctors, nurses and surgeons who keep service members in top physical health.
Possible Military Careers
Critical Care Nurse, Pediatrician, Physician and Surgeon, Flight Nurse, Flight Surgeon, Dentist, Dietitian, Optometrist, Physical and Occupational Therapist, Physician Assistant, Registered Nurse, Speech Therapist
- Perform general physical examinations
- Provide life support treatment for patients needing emergency care
- Develop special diets for patients
- Prescribe corrective lenses
- Plan and manage occupational therapy programs
- Perform oral surgery
- Treat hearing problems
Service members enter this career field with an advanced medical degree. Job training, when available, consists of classroom instruction, including practice in providing patient health care. Sample courses include:
- Fundamental Medical Care Procedures
- Health Care for Children
- Nursing Techniques
- Anesthesia, Respiratory Therapy and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
When he enlisted in the Army Reserve, Shawn Tulp didn't plan on becoming a nurse. He grew up as an Army brat, and he knew that he wanted to serve, just like his father. He didn't have a set career path, however. Then his recruiter mentioned that Shawn could become a practical nurse in the Military. Both Shawn and his mother were intrigued because they thought nursing would provide Shawn with many civilian career opportunities.
"It was actually my mother, the wise sage, who said, 'If you get training like that, not only can you use that in your civilian life to provide an income for yourself and a career path, but once you have something like that, no one can ever take it away from you.' "
Shawn followed his mother's advice and began training for a nursing career. While taking nursing classes at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., and the University of Phoenix, he also took the Army medic course and the Army's practical nurse course.
"When I finished my first degree in college, one of the other officers in my unit told me, 'Hey, why don't you put in your packet for a commission?' I took her up on the offer, got all my paperwork together and submitted it and before I knew it, I was all of a sudden a newly minted second lieutenant."
Nursing and I just meshed, and
I have to thank the Army for that.
Shawn has deployed twice, once to Landstuhl, Germany, and once to Afghanistan. At Landstuhl, he worked in the intensive care unit (ICU). In Afghanistan, he was the commander of a surgical element, where he took care of service members, Afghan civilians and members of the Afghan Military.
"When you go on deployments, you're all in. You're gone for a year. You'll endure hardships, you'll endure rough times but you'll also endure good times. You'll make strong friends, and you'll learn about yourself, not to mention that you'll advance your practice as a nurse farther than you could ever imagine."
Now an operations and training officer, Shawn works for the 437th medical company, based at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif. He sets the training schedule and helps prepare field training exercises for the ground ambulance company. Training other Soldiers is the aspect of the job that Shawn enjoys most.
"They feel like they're getting something out of it that will help them down the road when they're called upon to deploy again and perhaps have a Soldier's life in their hands."
In his civilian life, Shawn is a flight nurse who cares for patients while they are in transport. He works with patients who are being flown in helicopters from one hospital to another, or he helps move patients from the scene of an accident to the hospital.
"I'm able to bring a lot of my experiences from flight nursing directly over to this ground ambulance unit to help teach them about patient care scenarios or help train their medics to a higher standard."
Soon, Shawn will begin a master's degree program for nurse anesthesia at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz. The funding for Shawn's studies will come from the GI Bill and the Military's specialized training assistance program. Once he gets his degree, Shawn hopes to return to his Army Reserve unit, where he will continue to build a career in the field he loves.
"Nursing and I just meshed, and I have to thank the Army for that. I never would have gone in that direction had that not been offered to me as a career option."
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.
Capt. Philipa Duncker's father, an Air Force loadmaster, hoped his daughter would follow him into the Military. One day, he asked her if she would like to go for a drive.
"We ended up in a base in Atlantic City, N.J., and I was pretty much being told everything there was about joining the Air Force. Next thing you know, I was swearing in."
Philipa joined the Air National Guard and trained as a medic while attending Rutgers University. Originally, she planned to become a doctor, but her time at technical school made her realize she wanted to be a nurse instead.
"I went away to tech school, and I found that I did love medicine. I wanted to be at the bedside. I wanted to have more patient care experiences."
After graduating from Rutgers, Philipa discovered another opportunity. While drilling at McGuire Air Force Base as a member of the Air National Guard, Philipa heard about flight nurse positions within the base's Air Force Reserve unit.
"They had two air medical squadrons. I looked into it and decided maybe this was the thing for me. I went to an interview, and they welcomed me with open arms and said, 'Whenever you're ready, come on over.' "
When Philipa moved from the Air National Guard to the Air Force Reserve, she also started her Commissioned Officer Training and became a second lieutenant. During this time, she attended flight school, where she trained for the primary duties of a flight nurse. This position involves caring for patients while they are being moved from one location to another in an aircraft.
"When it's time to move that patient and/or patients, there's a team that's waiting on a plane. The job of that team is to monitor the patient and to be ready for any emergency that's going to happen for that patient throughout the transport."
I wanted to be at the bedside.
I wanted to have more
patient care experiences.
Philipa has been deployed to Joint Base Balad in Iraq as a flight nurse and also as an officer-in-charge of infection control. In this position, she established and monitored the procedures that help keep nursing areas clean.
"Infection control is the same on the military side as it is on the civilian side. It's just that when you're dealing with it on the aircraft, now you're in a big metal thing that's dirty and dusty, and you don't have water storage. So you have to be more vigilant about how you take care of patients and how you take care of yourself on the aircraft."
As a civilian, Philipa is also a nurse, and she has taken on multiple positions in her career. Right now, she is an emergency-room nurse. This schedule keeps her extremely busy, but she treasures the experiences and the friendships she has had through the Military.
"I've seen the world with people who are probably the closest thing to family than my own blood. These are people who have my back all the time, who have seen me at my worst, have seen me at my best, have seen me at my most vulnerable and still respect me and love me for it."
Philipa's future involves staying with her Air Force Reserve family - something she never would have imagined when her father first took her on a drive years ago. She's glad he steered her in the right direction.
Possible Military Careers
Possible Civilian Careers
- Nurse Practitioner
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It's not all about work in the Military. Learn about the benefits service members receive and what they do when off duty.