By Matthew Smolin
The goal is clear: become a doctor. It sounds simple, but the journey is long, exhausting, and busy. It involves countless nights spent studying instead of sleeping, days toiling in class or clinicals instead of socializing, and fact upon fact to remember so you can enter your career.
A doctor serves others tirelessly and utilizes a special set of skills. This service is at the heart of a doctor’s mission, but after years of schooling, you might feel like something’s missing. Maybe working all week at a family practice isn’t ideal for you. Fortunately, it’s possible to apply your physician’s skills in unexpected ways.
Deciding to Protect and Serve
After high school, I decided to join the military and study medicine. I graduated from medical school as a captain and entered active duty in 1984. After completing my internal medicine residency, I served in various hospitals across the globe from the 45th Field Hospital in Vicenza, Italy, to the Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Fort Gordon, Ga.
Traveling was an incredible opportunity, and although I’ve always had a passion for medicine, I could feel my enthusiasm for my work with the Army draining as the years passed. I took a 16-year-long break from service to work as a civilian cardiologist, but on September 11, 2001, I felt an immense urge to return to military service.
After 9/11, I realized there was still more left to do for my country. I wanted to show my children that life is a journey of self-improvement and I wanted to use my skill set to help the service members of our nation.
Tying Together Medicine and Military
My expertise is cardiology, but there were other areas of medicine I wanted to explore. This realization led to my reenlistment in the military. I joined the Army Reserve Medical Corps, which allowed me to care for and treat soldiers as well as their families.
Because it doesn’t involve combat, many civilians don’t know that this is considered active service. Through ARMC, I’ve had opportunities for growth and leadership, such as serving as a chief and learning more hands-on trauma care. My position reinvigorated my passion for medicine and fulfilled my wish to give back to those who sacrifice for our country’s safety.
Serving Your Country (in a Different Way)
Active service might be too large a commitment for some, but there are other ways to serve. You could:
• Work, donate, or volunteer at a military drive. All kinds of drives are held across the nation: food drives for soldiers’ families, clothing drives, and even military-specific blood drives.
• Help put together care packages for service members. There are plenty of local and national efforts for this. More information on one organization with this purpose is Give2TheTroops.
• Offer your physician skills and assistance to a veteran. Veterans need jobs in various fields, but you can train them to serve in your own career field with physician’s assistant programs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers physician’s assistant training courses.
These instances — and my own — prove that you can use your passion for medicine in an out-of-the-ordinary way. The spark that drove you to become a doctor can be ignited again.
Keeping Your Passion Alive
To be a doctor, you must be a determined and selfless person. But you also have to keep your passion to serve alive. Think hard about what makes you happy in life. What makes you feel fulfilled? How can you best use your skills in medicine to help others?
If you use them in a satisfying way, you’ll never lose sight of why you decided to practice medicine in the first place. If you want to give back to those who keep your country safe like I did, there are ways to do that that tie in your physician skills so you experience the best of both worlds. Being a doctor boils down to protecting and serving others, but there’s more than one way to do that. It’s up to you to listen to your calling.
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LTC Matthew Smolin currently practices interventional cardiology at the Sutherland Cardiology Clinic in Memphis, TN. Throughout his active duty, LTC Smolin served in Vicenza, Italy, completed a cardiology fellowship in Washington DC , and was a staff cardiologist in Fort Gordon, Georgia. After 16 years of a break in service, he re-commissioned with the Army Reserve in 2010 and served in the 75th CSH as Chief of Professional Services with the 256 CSH, served as an Internist with the 75th CSH, and is currently commander, 88th Battalion, 4th Brigade (HS), 100th Division (OS). LTC Smolin has been married to his wife Sandra for fifteen years and is the father of sons Alex and Matthew Jr. and daughter Melissa.