My time as a Flight Surgeon in the USAF

by Nick Molby, DO

I joined the United States Air Force as a way to help pay for medical school through the Health Professions Scholarship Program. I joined during my MS1 year, so only MS2 – MS4 were covered. I did not know what would happen or where my medical career would take me at that time, but looking back it was an adventure. I graduated in 2015 and was promoted from a 2nd Lieutenant to a Captain. I completed my intern year at a traditional rotating internship and then transitioned from scrubs to a flight suit after moving to Vance AFB in Oklahoma.

My time in the USAF took me to many different locations with multiple new experiences over my three-year commitment. I first went to Wright Patterson Air Force Base where I began my training in aerospace medicine over a 9-week period. This included aerospace physiology and experiencing what oxygen deprivation feels like at FL250 (flight level 25,000 ft). We then learned how to fly a Cirrus SR22 with calls to the control tower, take off, and land. After that we had some time to fly a high-performance aerial aircraft like the Pitts Special. During this time, we would have classes on how flying can affect different medical conditions. We also learned how to conduct an aircraft mishap investigation and respond to mass causality events.  After the completion of this training, I was awarded my wings and sent back to Vance to work as a flight surgeon.

During my time as a flight surgeon, I was no longer an intern or even a resident. I was an attending physician, with only my intern year as my post-graduate training experience. The initial few months were scary and exciting as the security blanket that we all become accustomed to in graduate medical education was now gone. In that situation there is still oversight from the doctors that you work with, but many times it is you, by yourself, relying on what knowledge you have gained to provide the best possible care to each patient and maintain the health of the base and its non-flying personnel.

I flew multiple aircraft with 155 hours of flight time spread out between the T6, T38, T1, F16, C130, Pitts Special, and the Cirrus SR22. I was a member of multiple squadrons, but my home medical squadron was the 71st MDOS and my home flying squadron was the 8th FTS. During my time flying, I recorded 155 hours of flight time including 51 combat hours. I deployed to Kuwait during my residency interview season and as a result conducted most of my interviews virtually. Luckily for me, the University of Utah gave me a chance to do my interview face to face once I had returned home from my deployment in January 2019.

I completed my time as a flight surgeon on June 29, 2019 after being promoted to Major and just before the start of my family medicine residency at the University of Utah. I gained many new friends and new experiences over those 3 years, and I am still amazed at how fast the time flew. I have broken the sound barrier, deployed and flown in a combat zone, and I am the only flight surgeon that has ever triple turned, which means I flew back to back to back, for all three-training aircraft—and I did it twice. There are many opportunities out there for those who want to take them, and if doing the HPSP is your goal, then you should definitely go for it and enjoy the experiences that you will gain. The link listed below is a publication on some of my own experiences while in the USAF as a flight surgeon.

“The Best Medical Care Possible from a Doctor Who Knows the Rigors of Flying”

Dr. Molby is originally from Avon, Indiana, located on the west side of Indianapolis. He completed his undergraduate degree at Indiana University before completing a master’s degree at IUPUI and medical degree at Kansas City University. His medical interests are in sports medicine, wilderness medicine/medicine in the austere environment. He completed an intern year before serving three years with the United States Air Force as a flight surgeon. He has had the opportunity to fly the F16, C130, T6, T1 and T38. He was deployed to Kuwait in 2018/2019 during Operation Inherent Resolve and provided medical care to the folks in Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan as well as those returning home. He loves the outdoors and mountains as well as triathlons, being at the gym, skiing, hiking and spending time with his dog, Ruby. He chose the University of Utah for not only its excellent track record of sports medicine fellowship matriculation post residency, but also for many opportunities in Salt Lake City, and for its location! He recalls walking out of the clinic on interview day and looking at the snow-covered mountains, and thinking to himself that he would love it here!

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