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I am a 26-year-old woman who has spent much of the past nine years engaged in such unusual activities as jumping out of airplanes, briefing Chuck Yeager (on more effective flying, of all things!), running through trenches, being a test parachutist, taking apart and then reassembling (blindfolded) a vintage M-1 rifle, earning a pilot’s license, and learning how to survive behind enemy lines (including resisting interrogations and escaping captivity). All of this has occurred within the context of my time in the military, which began when I enrolled as a cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Even then I was drawn to science, selecting biology as my major. My freshman year, when I was a lowly ”doolie” (a slang derivative of the Latin word meaning ”slave”), my grades suffered as I went through the traditional trials of being a first-year military student. It is a psychologically cruel and dehumanizing process (and an existence almost incomprehensible to anyone on the outside) which one must somehow endure while also meeting a full load of academic requirements. The isolation and rigidity of military life made the remaining three years a challenge as well. I frequently tell people that attending the Air Force Academy provided me the best experience of my life (in giving me discipline and showing me the stuff of which I was made) and also the worst.
At the time I graduated, I had a five-year obligation to the Air Force. Despite my continuing interest in becoming a physician, I decided first to fulfill this obligation so I would later be completely free to chart my own course. I chose to become a physiologist with the Air Force because this enabled me to combine my interest in aircraft and aerospace with my fascination with medicine. For two years I ran the hypo baric, or altitude, chamber, teaching flyers how to use their bodies to be better test pilots. During this same period I earned a master’s in systems management, which I felt would help me do my job more effectively. For the past two years, I have been a human factors engineer, testing and making recommendations on equipment so its design produces optimal human performance. At night I teach scuba diving and, in line with my view that a doctor’s proper role is at least partly educational, am earning a teaching credential.
With my military service scheduled to come to an end soon, it is finally possible for me to realize my long-held dream of applying to medical school. While my experience since graduating from the Air Force Academy has been highly instructive, it has reinforced my conviction that I am best suited to a career in which personal and human considerations are given highest priority. The interpersonal aspect of the profession holds great appeal for me, as does the fact that the doctor’s actions have a direct and significant impact on another human’s life. The constant intellectual challenge, the decision-making demands, the fast pace, and the fact that doctors can see the outcome of their work are other elements which attract me.
I know that I have a highly unconventional history for someone aspiring to become a doctor, but I also know that I have what it takes to succeed. My background has taught me many lessons, including, perhaps ironically, the value of human life and the importance of human dignity.
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