The Making of A Navy Doc

By Lt. Cmdr. Mike Villarroel, internal medicine resident, Naval Medical Center San Diego

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Graduate Medical Education in Navy Medicine is multi-faceted, providing education to many specialties. As part of Navy Medical Education and Training month this month, Navy medical personnel wrote to their future selves in order to show what it took to get to the current points in their careers. 

Hey Mike, this is your future self. It’s kind of like I’m Marty McFly in ‘Back to the Future’ and I’m here to tell you that your future looks bright. It’s been a while since you’ve set out on this journey. It’s crazy to think that it’s been 10 years since graduating medical school. So much has happened. Where do I even begin? First and foremost you have an amazing wife and three wonderful daughters. You wouldn’t believe it, but hitting the gym and hanging out with the guys is the furthest thing from your mind these days.

In regards to work and the Navy, all I can say is enjoy your UMO (Undersea Medical Officer) days to the fullest. Dive School is a blast and definitely choose the winter class. And even though you’re skeptical don’t stay at the Navy Lodge. Having roommates will create friends for life. Remember when you show up at your first command all eyes are on you, so act like it. You don’t have any experience being an officer, but everyone will expect you to act like one. Rely and trust in your Chief. He’s been in the Navy since you were in middle school and you’ve got a lot to learn from him. He’s got your back more than you know.

Your corpsmen are smart and have a lot to learn from you. Respect their accomplishments; they will teach you a lot, but will also look to you for mentorship. Set a good example. They’ll end up going to impressive places like Stanford, Duke and Penn State medical school, so make sure you lead them well. And each one of them will thank you for believing in them.

You’ll find yourself in places you never imagined. But there was always a reason. Enjoy Jump School at Fort Benning. Just know that it hurts (your body isn’t as young as your mind thinks it is). When you work late one night at your BAS (Battalion Aid Station) in Fallujah take the long way back to camp. You’ll completely miss that mortar round. When you’re deployed trust your gut instinct. You’ll make a couple of Iraqi parents very happy. You’ll have one very upset Regimental Surgeon, but it’s okay because he’ll understand later. Mostly, enjoy every day.  Know you can try to put a Marine SIQ (sick in quarters), but he’ll still want to join his fellow Marines in combat and you can’t stop that. You will never know when it’s his last day. And maybe that’s how it should be, because in the end, he was exactly where he should have been, with his brothers.

Always remember you’re a physician first. Don’t stay out of training for too long, even though I know you will. It’s ok because the time you spent with your family was worth it. By the time you get to BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training) you’ll think you have seen it all, but trust me you haven’t. Even Hollywood can’t write scripts this good. But save your stories for when you’re drinking a beer with the guys that served next to you. No one else would understand.

Lastly, learn how to write a FITREP (fitness report) and make sure you take an active role in writing the evals (performance evaluations) for your corpsmen. Go to the ranking boards and fight to get your guys CAP’d (Command Advancement Program). You’ll make it happen every time. Lead from the front except for when you’re at the chow hall, and then your Sailors better be in front of you. Finally keep reading, don’t let that subscription to the New England Journal expire, it’s just going to hurt that much more when you go back to residency.

Good luck…