All Branch Topic (ABT) Military Pilot vs Medicine : career advice

Sep 30, 2020
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Howdy !

I am having trouble deciding on a future career and was hoping someone on this forum could share some of their knowledge. I am stuck on this constant loop of asking myself am I doing too much ? am I not doing enough ? Ultimately I have this fear of dying with regret. Regret of being stuck in a job I don't like. Regret that my job would keep me from things I truly want to do.

... side note : I am aware both career fields are HIGHLY selective so if I get to the either one I will find it as a blessing. I am looking more for insight on where to put my time and resources since both paths have their own hardships that must be tackled one at a time.

Long story short:
As a kid, all I wanted was to be a fighter pilot after watching this Star Wars movie (I still hold the vhs tape to this date). This dream started to die off as me and my family started moving around the world and became impossible to be part of the military. However, a new passion was born for medicine. Given my increasing curiosity for the human body and improving people's life, I started wondering if I could make it into a career. Fast forward, my family is settled and I am finishing up high school in the United States, dead set on becoming a doctor. As I started college - after numerous hours of shadowing and learning about the careers in medicine - I decided medical school might not be the right fit for me. I still loved medicine but instead I started pursuing the career as a PA, with the main reason being : if I ever want to quit medicine and go live in the mountains, I can without feeling too much regret for all the time and money invested (of course there is more that went into this decision, but this is one of the biggest reasons). With this thought I started wondering what other jobs I would like to do outside of medicine. I started thinking about serving in the military, and eventually being a fighter pilot. Fast forward a couple of years of going back and forth, I am in my junior year, fawked up my first semester of college but made a big comeback with the ones to come, and I am looking for advice from strangers on the internet as it is getting increasingly harder to create connections in the real world.

Potential career plans:

I thinks the best plan would be to try my hardest to get hired by an ANG/Reserve unit, and after seasoning and going part-time I could go back to school and pursue Medicine.

Pros :
  • Live out my childhood dream. If I get picked up, this path would guarantee me a fighter slot and a set location even before commissioning as an officer. Also, I would apply to all units possible not just fighters, since all aircrafts are badass, as is the mission behind them.
  • Follow the steps of the greatest people I have ever known. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all served in the military and all turned into amazing people. I aspire to be like them and I think US military would allow me to do that. Even if fighter pilot wasn't an option, I would still seek to join the military (as a medic, hpsp, etc.).
  • The overall amazing experience. The amazing machines, the camaraderie, the prestige/heritage, flight suits, helmets, the stories, ripping through canyons at god-knows-what speed, carry the most awesome destructive power known to man, lift the heaviest payloads (y'all know the speech) - you get the gist, a more adventurous lifestyle. Bout as close as you can get to real life iron man.
  • Pursue medicine at the same time. After going part-time I could go back to school and pursue my second dream of practicing medicine (as a PA or doctor). Maybe get Uncle Sam to pay for part of it. I would need to turn into a different kind of animal to achieve this, but I heard it is possible. And if I don't get accepted into either program, I could pursue an advance degree (to improve chances for med school) or take an emt job (to improve chances for PA school, also very flexible with the ANG/Reserves).
  • Have more free time. Given the part-time nature of ANG, I would have more time to do things that active duty guys just don't have the time for. Travel, hike, go fishing, be there for important family events - overall a better work life balance, or so I'm told.
  • Enjoy a high earning career at a relative young age. If I am taking the PA route, I would be out in no time making more money than I would ever need.

Cons :
  • There is a high chance this plan will fail. Either by not being picked up for a pilot slot, given how competitive ANG/reserve is, or by not making it through the advanced degrees.
  • If I make it through, there is a chance I could do more bad than good. Medicine and Aviation both need huge chunks of time to remain proficient, not even mentioning improving. This could lead to either failing in both careers or sacrificing all your time to your career and getting burned out. But this is all my guess since I have yet to find info on someone doing both at the same time, I've only heard that people have done it before.
  • That 10 year commitment as a pilot scares me. I can't just leave if military is not my thing. However,I heard of pilots putting up with a lot of crap (explaining the pilot shortage) but I have yet to hear any pilot regretting their choice.
  • I think I am going in for the wrong reasons. Giving I moved a lot growing up, I lost all the sense of patriotism. I love this country don't get me wrong, but I am not a bleed red, white, and blue person. My motivation stays with the amazing people that I have met on these shores and not the flag.

Other possibilities :

Do my time as a pilot and then pursue medicine after service - If I am going active duty I would have higher chances at a pilot slot, but you have to compete to drop the aircraft you want, work life balance is not great, and I have been advised by pilots to go straight to ANG and avoid active duty. If I get lucky and get hired by a unit, I am gonna need to find a day job - many pilots go to the airlines but I wouldn't have any interest other than the money; I have heard of emt/paramedic working well with ANG so that would be closer to my passion in medicine. Also, after I am done with the service, some of the positives that come with the profession of PA (if I were still set on this over doctorate) would be lost : such as a high income at a relatively young age, time to travel, and experience life. By the time I get done with service and PA, I would be closing in to my 40s and ideally starting a family. So there would be no time to mess around.​
Flight surgeon/aeromedical PA/Pilot-Physician - these programs would allow me to combine both medicine and aviation in the same job. However, as a physician my options would be limited once out of service and there is a lot of time commitment between becoming a doctor and becoming a pilot. Aeromedical PAs and flight surgeons may catch a ride with the pilots from time to time, but they would never pilot the aircraft.​

Thank you in advance to anyone who took the time to read. Any advice and information will be greatly appreciated. Cheers !
 
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HopefulPilot

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All of these careers take a lot of hard work and some luck to enter. Choose one, and don't let random people on the internet determine what that is.
 

DeadCactus

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Figure out what you really want to do. Being a physician and being a military pilot are both major commitments both in the amount of education required and the personal sacrifices that will be asked of you. You don't want to go down either path without being committed to the respective profession.

If you don't have it, go get you pilot's license. See if it's actually what you think it is. Then research the actual life of a military pilot. Just like medicine, there is a lot of non-glamorous filler between the action shots. Top Gun doesn't show pilots sitting locked away studying for hours in their "time off" or handling some admin duty. The ANG/Reserve pilot gig is a great deal in some ways but also comes with its own challenges, don't confuse it for the 1 weekend a month 2 weeks a year gig from commercials, talk with some pilots to get their real world experience. I would not plan to be able to enter medical school or PA school for several years after your initial pilot training and seasoning.

If you really want to be a military pilot, that should be your first goal. Get accepted, get your wings, get trained up to be mission qualified, and then 4 or 5 years into it you can realistically start planning your next move and see if medicine is still appealing for you. If it is, you can decide get out vs stay in, MD vs PA, pilot-physician, etc at that point. There are plenty of prior service pilots in medical school.

If you do your exploration and soul searching and find that being a military pilot is not for you, then repeat the same process with being a physician.

There is no shame in deciding that ultimately that you don't want to invest such a large portion of your life into either route. Frankly, most people will enjoy their life a lot more as a PA (or accountant, engineer, plumber, etc) with an active flying hobby and a lot of time off than as a physician or military pilot or pilot-physician.
 

armytrainingsir

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Just to make your decision a bit more difficult, haha.....


If you want to do both, the path is Pilot->Physician, not the other way around.

The Mount Everest of pilot/MD has to be Pilot->Physician->Astronaut



To be young again, this time WITH good eyesight.
Sigh.....


Good luck!
 
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FlightDocDan

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Mar 16, 2012
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As you already mentioned, military pilot and physician career both come with a long committment. I'm not sure how old you are currently, but if you are interested in becoming a military pilot, I would highly recommend getting that package in asap since there is a age limit (late 20s - early 30s depending on the service.) There isn't really a hard age limit for Medical School if you really wanted to make that switch.

After you do your research/soul searching and decide that you want to do both... USAF Pilot Physician Program or US Navy's Aeromedical Dual Designation Program is probably the best way to go to utilize both career in one (See the old Forum Thread "Flight Surgeon?" for more discussion on Flight Surgeon/AMDD/PPP.) Much easier to go Pilot --> Physician in that order. A lot more challenging to do the other way due multiple factors (age, limited seat available to send a doctor to a pilot training, and more complicated/competitive application process/selection.)

Thankfully, bad eyesight is not a major factor for a military pilot anymore as long as you can surgically correct it. My eyesight was one of the deciding factor for me to go medical school instead of applying for a military pilot. Had I gone to flight school first instead, I probably wouldn't try to make the switch...

Didn't read all that, but I'll tell you that being a doctor is lame and being a pilot is badass.

100% agree with this. Some aspect of being a doctor is fun (i.e. OR) but most other parts are lame... flying is an absolute blast and I really enjoy working with pilots/taking care of them.
 

armytrainingsir

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Jun 15, 2017
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My eyesight was one of the deciding factor for me to go medical school instead of applying for a military pilot. Had I gone to flight school first instead, I probably wouldn't try to make the switch...


LOL
That's me 100%.
I talked to the Navy recruiter in college that did the ROTC stuff. He asked me to hand him my glasses, he looked through them and said " I MIGHT be able to get you into the back of something old and slow".
Okay then, medicine it is.
 
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Jun 24, 2019
25
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  1. Pre-Medical
Howdy !

I am having trouble deciding on a future career and was hoping someone on this forum could share some of their knowledge. I am stuck on this constant loop of asking myself am I doing too much ? am I not doing enough ? Ultimately I have this fear of dying with regret. Regret of being stuck in a job I don't like. Regret that my job would keep me from things I truly want to do.

... side note : I am aware both career fields are HIGHLY selective so if I get to the either one I will find it as a blessing. I am looking more for insight on where to put my time and resources since both paths have their own hardships that must be tackled one at a time.

Long story short:
As a kid, all I wanted was to be a fighter pilot after watching this Star Wars movie (I still hold the vhs tape to this date). This dream started to die off as me and my family started moving around the world and became impossible to be part of the military. However, a new passion was born for medicine. Given my increasing curiosity for the human body and improving people's life, I started wondering if I could make it into a career. Fast forward, my family is settled and I am finishing up high school in the United States, dead set on becoming a doctor. As I started college - after numerous hours of shadowing and learning about the careers in medicine - I decided medical school might not be the right fit for me. I still loved medicine but instead I started pursuing the career as a PA, with the main reason being : if I ever want to quit medicine and go live in the mountains, I can without feeling too much regret for all the time and money invested (of course there is more that went into this decision, but this is one of the biggest reasons). With this thought I started wondering what other jobs I would like to do outside of medicine. I started thinking about serving in the military, and eventually being a fighter pilot. Fast forward a couple of years of going back and forth, I am in my junior year, fawked up my first semester of college but made a big comeback with the ones to come, and I am looking for advice from strangers on the internet as it is getting increasingly harder to create connections in the real world.

Potential career plans:

I thinks the best plan would be to try my hardest to get hired by an ANG/Reserve unit, and after seasoning and going part-time I could go back to school and pursue Medicine.

Pros :
  • Live out my childhood dream. If I get picked up, this path would guarantee me a fighter slot and a set location even before commissioning as an officer. Also, I would apply to all units possible not just fighters, since all aircrafts are badass, as is the mission behind them.
  • Follow the steps of the greatest people I have ever known. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all served in the military and all turned into amazing people. I aspire to be like them and I think US military would allow me to do that. Even if fighter pilot wasn't an option, I would still seek to join the military (as a medic, hpsp, etc.).
  • The overall amazing experience. The amazing machines, the camaraderie, the prestige/heritage, flight suits, helmets, the stories, ripping through canyons at god-knows-what speed, carry the most awesome destructive power known to man, lift the heaviest payloads (y'all know the speech) - you get the gist, a more adventurous lifestyle. Bout as close as you can get to real life iron man.
  • Pursue medicine at the same time. After going part-time I could go back to school and pursue my second dream of practicing medicine (as a PA or doctor). Maybe get Uncle Sam to pay for part of it. I would need to turn into a different kind of animal to achieve this, but I heard it is possible. And if I don't get accepted into either program, I could pursue an advance degree (to improve chances for med school) or take an emt job (to improve chances for PA school, also very flexible with the ANG/Reserves).
  • Have more free time. Given the part-time nature of ANG, I would have more time to do things that active duty guys just don't have the time for. Travel, hike, go fishing, be there for important family events - overall a better work life balance, or so I'm told.
  • Enjoy a high earning career at a relative young age. If I am taking the PA route, I would be out in no time making more money than I would ever need.

Cons :
  • There is a high chance this plan will fail. Either by not being picked up for a pilot slot, given how competitive ANG/reserve is, or by not making it through the advanced degrees.
  • If I make it through, there is a chance I could do more bad than good. Medicine and Aviation both need huge chunks of time to remain proficient, not even mentioning improving. This could lead to either failing in both careers or sacrificing all your time to your career and getting burned out. But this is all my guess since I have yet to find info on someone doing both at the same time, I've only heard that people have done it before.
  • That 10 year commitment as a pilot scares me. I can't just leave if military is not my thing. However,I heard of pilots putting up with a lot of crap (explaining the pilot shortage) but I have yet to hear any pilot regretting their choice.
  • I think I am going in for the wrong reasons. Giving I moved a lot growing up, I lost all the sense of patriotism. I love this country don't get me wrong, but I am not a bleed red, white, and blue person. My motivation stays with the amazing people that I have met on these shores and not the flag.

Other possibilities :

Do my time as a pilot and then pursue medicine after service - If I am going active duty I would have higher chances at a pilot slot, but you have to compete to drop the aircraft you want, work life balance is not great, and I have been advised by pilots to go straight to ANG and avoid active duty. If I get lucky and get hired by a unit, I am gonna need to find a day job - many pilots go to the airlines but I wouldn't have any interest other than the money; I have heard of emt/paramedic working well with ANG so that would be closer to my passion in medicine. Also, after I am done with the service, some of the positives that come with the profession of PA (if I were still set on this over doctorate) would be lost : such as a high income at a relatively young age, time to travel, and experience life. By the time I get done with service and PA, I would be closing in to my 40s and ideally starting a family. So there would be no time to mess around.​
Flight surgeon/aeromedical PA/Pilot-Physician - these programs would allow me to combine both medicine and aviation in the same job. However, as a physician my options would be limited once out of service and there is a lot of time commitment between becoming a doctor and becoming a pilot. Aeromedical PAs and flight surgeons may catch a ride with the pilots from time to time, but they would never pilot the aircraft.​

Thank you in advance to anyone who took the time to read. Any advice and information will be greatly appreciated. Cheers !
If being a pilot is in the back of your mind. You will never let it go. Be a pilot first and then when your time is up go to medical school or grad school. Look up Bob Adams. He was a Navy SEAL (DEVGRU) that went to medical at the age of 36. You can do both!
 
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Khroniik

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For what it's worth, you can participate in the pilot-physician program going from Physician -> Pilot -> Pilot-Physician.

The reg for that on the Air Force side is AFI 11-405, 1.7, page 8.
 

DeadCactus

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For what it's worth, you can participate in the pilot-physician program going from Physician -> Pilot -> Pilot-Physician.

The reg for that on the Air Force side is AFI 11-405, 1.7, page 8.

Technically true but much less likely to be accepted into it than the other way around from everything I’ve read and heard.
 

j4pac

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I’d say that the likelihood of going from medicine to pilot in the military is remote. On the other hand, I know many pilots to become doctors. Being a military pilot is a game for the young...but being a physician carries over a little better long term.
 
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Cooperd0g

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The Air Force program for Physician to Pilot is alive and not so well. Not so well because they have no applicants.

The Navy put a flight surgeon into flight school for their Aeromedical Dual Designator program this summer. The program is regaining strength under current leadership among both the AMDD program, BUMED and Naval Air Forces.

Keep in mind that both programs are dominated in numbers by people who were pilots first. Also understand that choosing this path as a physician either limits your choices in specialty in order to continue to be able to fly or limits your ability to fly by choosing a hospital based specialty.
 
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Dec 20, 2019
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I had this same dilemma and took all the tests for the pilot program in both the Air Force and Navy and pretty much put together a full package for the pilot route before I decided to go to medical school instead. I liked both jobs, but ultimately the better pay and job security (especially in the civilian sector) for doctors versus pilots was what made my decision for me. It is overall a subjective choice, though.

Like most people in this thread have said, if you really want to do both, it is very possible if you become a pilot first. In my experience it was much easier to put together a good application for the pilot program rather than a good medical school application, but I think that having military experience can for sure help your application once you do leave the military and apply to medical school, so it should theoretically work out. I personally did not go this route because I didn't like the idea of switching careers and wanted to focus on just one thing, but a good number of people have done it and been successful.

The other option is becoming a doctor in the military and then flying planes, which is possible with either flight surgery or the dual designator programs. I have looked into these quite a bit both on here and in other places since I'm still interested in the possibility of flying, though in general, both seem to be 'worse' options than the first one if you really want to be a military pilot. Flight surgery is less involved given that you have clinical duties and are probably not going to be the pilot in command most of the time, and the dual designator programs seem to favor former pilots who are now doctors and want to fly again. I also don't know how active or easily accessible these programs are. The Air Force's seems to be running, but I tried looking for information on the Navy's program and couldn't find anything that wasn't outdated. The post above mine seems to shed some light on it, though.

Personally I hope that there is still some way to fly military craft once you are a doctor in their service since I would love to do that. But in my opinion, if you really want to be both a pilot and a doctor, you should do the two separately and try flying before you start medical school.
 

FlightDocDan

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Mar 16, 2012
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The Air Force program for Physician to Pilot is alive and not so well. Not so well because they have no applicants.

The Navy put a flight surgeon into flight school for their Aeromedical Dual Designator program this summer. The program is regaining strength under current leadership among both the AMDD program, BUMED and Naval Air Forces.

Keep in mind that both programs are dominated in numbers by people who were pilots first.

IMHO, If you have not committed to medical career yet and want to be a Naval Aviator, go to flight school first. Even if you want to do both as a dual designator/Pilot-Physician later. Much easier and more likely to get the dual designation that way.

However, if you are already in medical school or already a physician:

USAF PPP Program sure seem to be more active and organized as they have several youtube recruiting videos and formal application/calender (may only be accessible via CAC log in for current service members.) I'm not exactly sure how many Physician --> Pilot they select a year though or any other detail on that program.

In terms of the Navy AMDD, the program has been dormant for a very long time as mentioned above, but there is a recently updated instruction available and rumors of recruiting more physician --> pilot candidates (possibly 1 per year or so maybe?) Search OPNAVINST 1542.4E dated 29 MAY 2018 for the most recent guidance on the program. Majority of the current dual designators are indeed former military pilots who become a physician, PA, optometrist, physiologist, or psychologist second. However, there are several current flight surgeons currently interested in applying for the program with active application cooking as we speak (plus one already in flight training.)

You do have to be a current Designated Naval Flight Surgeon with at least 2 years of service, prior to passing your 32nd birthday (or get age waiver, unknow upper limit,) and meet the physical standard of a regular Student Naval Aviator to qualify. DM me if you are a current or prospective Naval Flight Surgeon interested in more detail on the Navy AMDD Program.

Also understand that choosing this path as a physician either limits your choices in specialty in order to continue to be able to fly or limits your ability to fly by choosing a hospital based specialty.

This is absolutely true... Most likely follow on medical training would be Residency in Aerospace Medicine (RAM) with board certifications in Occupational Medicine/Preventative Medicine + Masters in Public Health (not required but most reasonable in my opinion.) WIth the 8-year obligation after finishinig flight training plus required servie time as a Flight Surgeon prior to applying for program, you will be in for at least 15 years. Might as well stay 20 and make it to retirement if you are looking at doing the AMDD. You better love aviation and really want to fly if you are considering this career path!
 
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FlightDocDan

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Mar 16, 2012
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Personally I hope that there is still some way to fly military craft once you are a doctor in their service since I would love to do that.

Are you in the military commissioning program (HPSP, USUHS, etc?) If you are in the military/will be in the military and interested in flying, do Flight Surgery. Even if it is not your main job to fly and you will for sure not going to be a PIC, you will have plenty of time to fly any 2+ seat aircraft with another qualified pilot. If you are at a command where there is instructor available, you will be able to get actual copilot time at the controls vs sitting in the back as a passenger.

Most do it for 1 or maybe 2 tours then move on to their normal/traditional medical specialties but all have said being a FS has been a fun and memorable time of their medical career regardless of what they end up doing for their ultimate specialty. And of course if you want to keep flying and be involved in aviation long term, you can do Aerospace Residency (RAM) or if you truely want to fly more and be PIC, etc, then go for the AMDD/PPP. Don't miss out on the opportunity if you have passion for flying/aviation!
 
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