Balancing Air Force Duties and Medical Dreams

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PMY 564: Balancing Air Force Duties and Medical Dreams

Session 564

Callie shares her story as a nontraditional medical student who overcame many obstacles in her journey to medical school – including being in the military, having children, and applying as an out-of-state applicant to an in-state heavy school.

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

A Lifelong Dream to Become a Physician

Callie shares that she has wanted to become a physician since she was a young child. Though she took a detour through the military for several years after high school, she never lost sight of her original goal. She pursued prerequisites and applied to medical school while serving, showing her dedication to achieving her dream.

Her Journey as a Nontrad Student in the Military

Callie explains that choosing to attend the Air Force Academy, while it provided many benefits, made it difficult to maintain a high GPA due to the rigorous curriculum required for non-science majors. She mentions having to take engineering courses in addition to chemistry classes, which impacted her ability to get good grades. This ultimately hurt her chances of admission to medical school on her first application attempt.

While she loved serving in the military and being surrounded by great people, the actual jobs she held within her career field just didn’t fulfill her in the way she felt she was meant to help others. She knew deep down that she wasn’t making as much of a positive impact on people’s lives as she desired. This realization is what ultimately drove her to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a physician.

Juggling Responsibilities as a Military Reservist

Callie describes her experience applying to medical school while serving in the military reserves. She had to carefully plan around her reserve duties and annual training requirements.

A highlight was taking the MCAT only 3 months postpartum while breastfeeding, which she admitted was too soon and an extremely difficult physical and mental challenge. Although she didn’t get accepted on her first attempt, it showed her dedication to pursuing her medical dreams despite facing many obstacles.

“Three months is not enough time to give yourself to prepare for the MCAT.”

Since she graduated from the Air Force Academy, Callie owed 5 years of service. It was fulfilled in 2016 when she and her husband were stationed in Germany. She purposely finished her master’s degree concurrently so that commitment would also be complete. Then it would leave her free to apply to medical school without any additional service obligations. The timing worked out well for her transition to the reserves as her contract was up, rather than having to finagle her way out of active duty commitments.

Gaining Valuable Clinical Experiences Despite the Challenges

Callie admits that her clinical experience and shadowing was very limited when she first applied to medical school. After not getting accepted the first time, she reached out to physicians on her military base and was able to shadow in their clinic, gaining some exposure. She mentioned it was difficult to find opportunities due to COVID restrictions, but she utilized any contacts she could to boost her application for the next cycle. Networking and persistence were key in helping her obtain more well-rounded medical experiences.

Callie explains that while she didn’t have extensive recent clinical experience, she knew she would enjoy caring for patients based on her experiences as a patient herself and seeing how physicians interacted with her child. Specifically, she was drawn to the high-quality care she received from her OB/GYN and wanted to provide that same compassionate care to women who may not have such a strong patient-doctor relationship. Her passion came from witnessing firsthand the impact physicians can make through positive interactions with their patients.

“There are women out there that have not received the quality of care that I have and do not have the relationship with their physicians that I have. And I just know that I can be that person.”

Navigating Military Commitments While Pursuing My Medical Dreams

Callie explains that as an IMA reservist, she had 48 half-days of work to complete each year, which was flexible enough to coordinate with her medical school schedule. She was fortunate to remain in the same position with the same understanding commander and leadership who already knew her capabilities. This allowed them to work with her needs as a student.

She emphasizes the importance of having an established relationship and communication with military leadership to explain medical school’s demands and find a workable solution.

The Importance of Communicating with Your Military Spouse

Callie and her husband were fortunate with the timing, as he was able to retire in the next year during her third year of medical school. This allowed them to plan around his military obligations. As a B-52 pilot, there were only a few locations he could be stationed. So they communicated this limitation to his leadership to ensure being stationed near her medical school. With open communication throughout, her husband was always aware of their goal for her to attend LSU Shreveport. Their detailed planning and her husband’s impending retirement helped navigate the needs of his military career alongside her medical education.

Seeking Guidance and Mentorship

After not receiving an interview on her first application, Callie did reach out to LSU Shreveport medical school to gain feedback on how she could strengthen her application. While she didn’t specifically seek guidance or mentorship at the time, she took their advice to gain more clinical experiences and science coursework.

As a non-traditional applicant without resources, she didn’t realize she could have benefited from establishing a mentorship relationship earlier in the process. This would have helped navigate her unique situation. Reaching out to the school helped improve her chances the second time around.

Navigating Residency Status as a Military Applicant to a State Medical School

Callie clarifies that while she maintains Florida residency, she emphasized in her application materials that she and her family were stationed long-term in Louisiana. As an active duty military member, LSU Shreveport recognizes her as an in-state applicant, granting her the benefit of lower in-state tuition.

Though out-of-state, she leveraged her military status to gain consideration as a state resident. This increased her competitiveness for admission to this public medical school with a large preference for in-state applicants.

Getting Her Medical School Interview Invite

Callie describes receiving the interview invitation email as an amazing feeling of relief. As a non-traditional applicant who faced many obstacles, she felt that if she could just get an interview, the admissions committee would understand her true potential and passion for medicine. Opening that email while her husband was deployed brought her great joy.

Although the acceptance letter came via paper mail, looking back at her recorded reaction to both acceptances continues to bring her to tears. It reminds her of how far she has come to achieve her lifelong dream.

Leveraging Life Experiences to Shine in the Interview

Callie explained that she felt well prepared for her interview due to her experience telling her story throughout her military career. She was used to talking with others to help and mentor them. She knew this was her chance to convey why she was meant to be a physician.

Having interviewed military applicants herself, she understood the importance of finding personal connections with her interviewers. She was able to bond with one over pediatrics and another over their shared military background, which she believes helped her stand out from other candidates.

“Find those places where you can connect with those interviewers on a very personal level to make that connection so that they remember you.”

Her Toughest Challenge: Balancing Motherhood and Medical School Dreams

Callie reflects that the most difficult part of her journey was the year after having her first child, as she tried to get into medical school. She wanted to spend time with her newborn daughter but needed to intensely study for the MCAT while balancing commitments as a military reservist.

Taking the MCAT only three months postpartum while breastfeeding was physically and mentally exhausting. It was a challenge to juggle responsibilities as a new mom with the demands of preparing for medical school, but showed her determination to achieve her goal.

Balancing Medical School, Military Service and Family Life

Currently, Callie’s husband takes their three-year-old daughter to and from school most days since her medical school schedule is in the afternoons. This allows her to study while also picking up her daughter when needed. Extended family members like her mom and mother-in-law help watch their seven-month-old baby.

It takes a village to support them both in their demanding careers and family responsibilities. Open communication and flexibility in coordinating schedules is key to managing their relationship and children as a military family pursuing medical dreams.

Callie described having a baby during her first year of medical school as extremely difficult and not something she would recommend. Between the physical demands of pregnancy and new motherhood, and the mental workload of first year coursework like anatomy and genetics, it was an immense challenge.

She faced judgment from some professors who did not believe women should have children during medical school. However, her determination to achieve both her family goals and medical dreams helped her push through the difficulties with the support of her village.

“It takes a village… You have to have that network when you’re trying to get into med school, when you’re in med school.”

Advocating for Change: Navigating Pregnancy and Parental Leave in Medical School

Callie’s medical school did not have a formal parental leave policy in place when she had her first child. She had to advocate strongly for herself, writing a letter to the dean the day before giving birth to establish a plan. 

Some professors were not very supportive of women having children during school. Since then, she has worked with the school to implement an official policy providing leave for both female and male students. While the support was lacking for her personally, she helped pave the way to create more family-friendly policies.

Lessons from Service: Using Her Voice to Enact Positive Change

Callie credits her experiences in the military with giving her the confidence to advocate for herself, even when facing adversity or lack of support. As a veteran, she developed leadership skills and learned the importance of effective communication. This empowered her to speak up for needed changes, like establishing a parental leave policy at her medical school. Even when the system wasn’t accommodating initially, she wasn’t afraid to voice her needs – an invaluable trait that will serve her well as a future physician leader.

A Call for a Parental Leave Policy

Callie agrees that having parental leave policies be a formal part of medical school accreditation is crucial to support physician trainees who are starting families. She notes the irony that the military healthcare system afforded her better maternity benefits than her own medical school.

Mandating schools demonstrate a strong family leave program to accrediting bodies like LCME and COCA could help standardize support for students balancing education and parenthood across all institutions. This is an important step towards equality and family-friendliness in medical training.

Final Words of Wisdom

For students considering the medical school path, Callie’s final words of encouragement are to surround yourself with a strong support system. On challenging days, lean on those who believe in you and your dreams.

“Dig deep into yourself. And if it’s something that you really want, you have to believe in yourself. You have to know that you can do it.”

While it won’t always feel possible, if medicine is truly your passion, have faith in yourself that you can overcome any obstacles. It may require brute force at times, but achieving hard goals is possible with determination and community behind you. Her story proves that no situation is insurmountable if you’re willing to fight for your future in healthcare.


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