Can schools train students as well as the Navy trains pilots?

“We have the same basic goal as the U.S. Navy but with a different target,” a PCOM professor writes.

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.


  1. Kevin Riccitelli, DO

    Sir: I was excellently trained! When I was in my fourth year clinical rotations, I was the first DO student to spend time in a couple of Allopathic Hospitals in the Cleveland,OH area….and was told on more than one occasion that I had received excellent training & infact better than the MD students in those services. A critical care specialist once commented to my partner and me that our patients always had better outcomes than any of the other generalists in a large South Florida hospital. Our trainers/faculty did any excellent job, and I believe that was because they shared the same concerns that you write about. Our training gave us the wisdom to make critical and the best decision at the right time….a certain lecture will suddenly come to mind when needed….giving us wisdom beyond our years in practice. KUDDOS to all of you who work so deligently to train the best DOCS in town.

  2. Kenneth E. Johnson, D.O.

    I was an Air Force Officer before I went to medical school and was also an Air Forec Instructor for future Air Force Officers. My medical school training was excellent and still is. In many ways the training we give our students in Osteopathic programs rivals the training I received in the Air Force. Both training opportunities produce the best of the best. We are all grateful for our soldiers service and are blessed to be thier physicians.

  3. robert migliorino,d.o.

    As a former USAF Flight Surgeon,I found the article some what bewildering. His subject was a Naval “Aviator”(the Navy prefers that term to “Pilot”)who flew an F-14. As a Flight Surgeon,I flew everything from a Warthog to a KC-10.Only two people can restrict a pilot from flight status,the Commander & the Flight Surgeon,which is why flight status troops are very nice to both.The Flight Surgeon is involved with these folks very closely,including their families. The F/S treats everything including psychiatric relating to them. Evidently Dr. Goldstein is totally unfamiliar with the role of the Flight Surgeon;who also must fly x hours per quarter & be able to do investigative forensics if there is an incident.His statement about delivery of ordnance is one of liberalism;except for Monte Cassino,no such thought was given during WW2.I must also take issue with Dr. Black’s sarcastic comment demonstrating his total ignorance of the situation. True,the military is stifled by excess regulations,paperwork,& psychotic individuals but,still manages to complete the mission,unless politically prevented

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