Mike Brisson, OMS IV, is also a Black Hawk pilot, serving the Alabama National Guard as an aeromedical evacuation pilot.
Flying High

He’s a fourth-year med student—and a Black Hawk helicopter pilot

Finding balance begins with maintaining interests outside of medicine, says Mike Brisson, OMS IV, whose first passion was aviation.

For Captain Mike Brisson, OMS IV, there is more to life than medical school. Much more.

Before medical school, while on active duty in the U.S. Army as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, Brisson experienced excruciating lower back pain. He received osteopathic manipulative treatment from a DO Army flight surgeon, which provided relief. The experience opened his eyes to the world of osteopathic medicine and the possibility that he could pursue medicine alongside aviation.

Now, Brisson, who holds a MPH and a PhD, is a fourth-year at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Auburn, Alabama, (VCOM-Auburn) and an aeromedical evacuation pilot for the Alabama National Guard. He is also husband to Sarah Brisson, a fellow Black Hawk pilot; father to two young sons, Luke and Noah; a paramedic; and in 2017, was Student Doctor of the Year at VCOM-Auburn. This year, Brisson received the AOF/AOA Presidential Memorial Leadership Award.

Brisson talked to The DO about aviation and achieving balance in life during med school. Below is an edited Q&A.

How often do you fly?

With the Alabama National Guard, as an Army aeromedical evacuation pilot in a UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopter, I fly every other weekend, and sometimes a few times per month. I’m basically like 911. If someone gets hurt, they call me and my crew and we come out and pick them up, just like an ambulance. That’s why they call it an air ambulance or ambulance in the sky.

How do you balance flying and medical school?

Being in the military before I decided to go to medical school is what gave me the time management and discipline necessary to manage flying, med school and the rest of my life. Also, having a family makes you a better time manager because you’re responsible for everyone around you.

Brisson flies a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. He says that medicine and aviation both involve preserving and protecting lives.

How do your pursuits outside of med school help you relieve stress?

Being busy and having interests outside of medicine can actually prevent burnout. It resets you and reclaims your mind. Seek support from your school and other organizations. VCOM-Auburn has been incredibly supportive of my family and my military pursuits. The Alabama National Guard has been supportive of my medical school demands. People will help you if you ask for it.

How would you advise medical students to better manage their stress?

Understand there is no stigma to reaching out for help. Nothing is worth losing your life. One suicide is too many. Maintain a life outside of med school. There is more to life than doing board exams and flash cards and memorizing every muscle in the human body.

How did you become interested in medicine?

My dad was a general surgeon in New York. I became an emergency medical technician (EMT) at 18 and a paramedic at 20. I’ve been a paramedic ever since, for almost 12 years now. I still work as a paramedic for local rescue squads in Enterprise, Alabama, and on ambulances while I’ve been in medical school. I’ll feel confident as a future family medicine doctor that no matter what I’m faced with at work, I’ll know what to do. The experience will ultimately make me a better physician.

For 12 years, Brisson has served as a paramedic, which he continues to do during medical school.

After a 20-year career as a general surgeon, your dad joined the U.S. Army just after 9/11. How did that influence your perspective?

I was only 11 years old when the 9/11 attacks occurred. My dad, Colonel Dr. Paul Brisson, wanted to serve his country so he joined the military. He’s now retired from the Army as a general surgeon and colonel. And he’s still an incredibly successful surgeon. My mom, Debbie Brisson, and my dad always put family first. They set a standard for my wife, my children and I.

Your wife is also a Black Hawk pilot. How does that impact your family and lifestyle?

My wife, Captain Sarah Brisson, is an air assault pilot. She carries weapons on her Black Hawk and she inserts troops on the battlefield to complete a mission. She isn’t in medicine at all. We’ve maintained a strong 11-year marriage through deployments, kids and the challenges of serving. As a team, we know we’re doing this not only for our county but also for our family. We can share those challenges. We also share a love of aviation.

Brisson's wife, Captain Sarah Brisson, also flies a Black Hawk helicopter. She is an air assault pilot, delivering troops on the ground to accomplish a mission.

How are aviation and medicine similar?

They both require drive and work ethic. I don’t see them as that different. As an aviator, lives are literally in your hands and you’re either preserving or protecting them. Similarly, for a surgeon or family medicine doctor, people put their trust in you to treat their condition and get them back to wellness again.

For further reading:

Work hard. Play hard. Med student pitched for the pros over the summer 

Military medicine: Keeping pilots in flying form

OMT: The military pilot’s drug-free treatment option 

1 comment

  1. My utmost respect and appreciation to Captains Sarah and Mike Brisson for their dedicated service to our country, and special thanks to Mike for being part of our beloved osteopathic medicine program. I, and my fellow physicians, DO and MD, are proud of you!

    Linda M Gruener, DO
    DuPage Medical Group
    Illinois

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