I had just been promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy SEAL Teams when I accepted a medical school scholarship from the Army. I wore my Navy uniform, with gold SEAL Trident above my ribbons, proudly for the last time, with my family by my side, as I was sworn in to start my medical career as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps. The Navy would have demoted me also, as all medical school students begin again in rank. The reason is quite logical. If I were to graduate at a higher rank, then the only jobs available would be command and staff jobs appropriate to my rank. I needed to learn my trade as a doctor seeing lots of patients and delivering lots of babies before moving up the responsibility ladder.
The Navy had said I qualified for a three-year scholarship, and the Army said four years. I was 36-years old with two children and Wake Forest University medical school was very expensive. I took the money and changed uniforms.
The Army medical school scholarships paid a monthly stipend that was half of a 2nd Lieutenant’s starting salary. It also provided for one month of active duty, drawing full pay. That month, in our third and fourth years, allowed us to do rotations in military hospitals where we might want to be selected to do our residency.
The best family medicine residency in the Army was at Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, Washington. I went there for both third and fourth-year rotations. I wore my Army uniform with the bright gold SEAL Trident above my left pocket. It got lots of confused looks, but in some cases, it got me some earned respect that my 2nd Lieutenant “butter bars” would not have permitted.
“Lieutenant Adams, you were here last year, and we liked you. You should be going somewhere else this year,” stated Colonel Thompson. He was the Family Medicine Department Chief and would be instrumental in the future I hoped for. I needed him to select me for a residency in family medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Washington.
“Yes, sir. I know, but I really liked it here last year. I want you and your staff to know that when I fill out the required five choices for my residency, it is going to say: 1. Madigan, and 2. through 5. will be: Kill me, Kill me, Kill me, Kill me.”
This earned me a nod and a smile.
“Bob, I have to be honest with you, your Part 1 board scores are not that great. We have lots of applicants for our program. Why would we choose you over these other applicants?”
I was prepared for his question, as it had come up before.
“Sir, our school’s Parallel Curriculum study program is different in preparing for the Part 1 standardized exam. We are more clinically oriented from the start. There is less rote memorization of test facts. I admit that I will not be the smartest doctor you bring here but promise that I will be the best doctor you graduate.”
“Good answer,” he stated with a smile.
I spent the next four weeks doing family medicine, obstetrics, and pediatrics with the family medicine staff. I made sure they knew of my intent, but I needed insurance.
I went to the nearby Hood Canal on Saturday, with rented scuba tanks, to catch much-loved Dungeness crabs. I knew where to go. I had done some diving there the year before. Usually, I would never dive alone. The spot was 15–20 feet deep, and I could walk into my secret hole from shore. I drove my car there and made the dive. I had a mission, and my years of diving training with the SEALs came in handy. The Dungeness crabs dotting the bottom never had a chance.
Now it was time to use my past experiences to achieve a life and military goal.
“Sir, during our orientation, you said that if we students had a problem, we could call you directly,” I began with concern in my voice. COL Thompson was on his home phone.
“Yes, of course, Bob. What is your problem?”
“Well, sir, I seem to have a cooler full of fresh-caught Dungeness crabs, and I have no place to cook them.”
A brief pause followed, and my future Department Chief responded. “I see, Bob. And what time may I expect you?” he finished with a bright smile in his voice.
We had a delightful dinner of crabs and beer. I got the residency I wanted. Hooyah!
** This story is a revised excerpt from the author’s book “Swords and Saints A Doctor’s Journey.”