Doctor's Day: honoring dedication to patient care

  • Published
  • By Col. William A. Thomas, Jr., M.D., MPH, FACP
  • 49th Medical Group commander
A nurse working with the Family Advocacy program at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, overheard a disgruntled military member make the comment "those doctors over there are only in the military because they couldn't pass medical school!" Having spent so many years in medical education, we often take it for granted the patients we treat understand what qualifications are needed. Here at Holloman, we are fortunate we have such great physicians and dentists available to us every day of the year.

All of our 13 base physicians are fully licensed and nine of them have completed residency training and are board certified. In addition, two have earned the title of "Fellow." Here's what all that means.

Competition to get into medical school begins in the first years of college. In general, students with less than a 3.5 grade point average need not even bother applying. After finishing a college degree, medical school itself is a great hurdle requiring at least four years of dedicated study and long hours just to complete. At the conclusion of this training, the graduate is officially hooded as a physician and may use the initials M.D. -- medical doctor - or DO -- doctor of osteopathy -- after their name, but they still can't get a license to practice.

Licensure is granted by the state in which you practice and is a legal document saying you follow the laws of the state and abide by their regulations with regard to continuing education, professional conduct and prescribing practices.

In order to be licensed, most states require the physician complete another full year of supervised training and have passed a stringent examination by the state board. The Air Force requires all physicians maintain at least one unrestricted, valid license at all times.

After internship, at which time the doctor becomes qualified for a license, doctors may continue their education in a residency program for a certain specialty. Residency training programs take anywhere from three to five years to complete depending on the specialty -- three for family practice, emergency medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry; and four for radiology, surgery, gynecology, anesthesia or orthopedics.

After a residency, two or more years of training, called a fellowship, can be added to subspecialize in a certain area. Much longer training is required for subspecialties like thoracic surgery, neurosurgery or invasive cardiology. After completion of this level of training, physicians my then be eligible for certification by the board of medical examiners for that specialty.

Board certification is the culmination of these many years of education, and it is a formal acknowledgement of completed training and demonstrated competence in that specialty. The designation as a Fellow of the college of an individual's specialty is an honor granted to physicians who are experienced, outstanding performers in their field and maintain the highest level of ethical conduct, continuing education and excellence in practice.

Your physicians at the 49th Medical Group participate in continuing education programs to maintain their skills. This is required to maintain a state license. Additionally, the doctors review and re-review each other's work to make sure you are getting the best possible medical care.

Doctor's Day has been a nationally recognized observance since 1958 when Congress set aside March 30 to annually honor our nation's physicians. When you see your physicians and their families around on base, thank them all for their support and dedication to long years of training and long hours of work. It is their dedication to patient care that helps to make America's standard of living the highest in the world.