Can schools train students as well as the Navy trains pilots?
Shown in the rear seat of an F-14 Tomcat flying over Iraq, Matthew Speicher, OMS II, was a flight officer in the U.S. Navy before starting medical school. (Photo by Speicher)
Decisions, decisions, decisions. As the pharmacology coordinator for the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), I often wonder how I can ensure that our medical students will become excellent physicians. A conversation with a then first-year student last spring enriched my perspective on this issue.
During an April 2011 meeting of PCOM’s DO Curriculum Committee, which includes faculty and student representatives, we discussed extensively how basic science and clinical faculty can improve the medical curriculum to better prepare students for their careers. After the meeting, I had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew Speicher, OMS II, chairman of the class of 2014.
Although I knew that Matt had been in the U.S. Navy prior to matriculating at PCOM, I had no knowledge of his wartime experience until our conversation. He told me that as a flight officer, he constantly made critical decisions:
- “Should I do it now?”
- “Should I wait a few additional seconds for a better ‘read’ of the situation?”
His review of the information he had at that exact moment, plus his years of training, allowed him to arrive at the optimum choice.
Where was he? Matt was in backseat of an F-14 Tomcat flying over Iraq. Known by his naval nickname, “Turbo,” he searched for military targets, provided close air support to coalition troops on the ground and sometimes made split-second decisions on ordnance delivery. Civilians and associated buildings were not to be hit. A wrong choice meant that noncombatants would be seriously injured or killed, potentially resulting in brutal repercussions for Matt, the Navy and the United States.
Naval officers habitually make life-and-death assessments, as do physicians. I know that during his remaining years as a medical student, Matt will compare his experience in naval aviation to his future role in health care.
Will he be as well-prepared by PCOM for his medical career as he was by the Navy for his military avaiation duties? Will he have the highest level of didactic information and clinical skills to make important medical decisions, some having direct, immediate impact on his patients’ survival?
Most medical students do not have Matt’s experience, but they certainly share the same passion to excel.
My limited role in educating Matt and other PCOM medical students is to do the best I can with the pharmacologic topics I present. I know that my colleagues in their respective fields of expertise feel the same way. As an academic team, we are deeply dedicated to helping osteopathic medical students become well-prepared DOs. Therefore, we have the same basic goal as the U.S. Navy but with a different target.
Frederick J. Goldstein, PhD, is a professor of clinical pharmacology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.