A Medical Mission: Insights into a Career in Military Medicine

From a young age, Aaron Saguil knew that he wanted to be a doctor. His mother, who was a nurse for over 35 years, had an overwhelming impact on his decision to pursue medicine. In 10th grade of high school, he told himself that he was going to be a doctor.

“I felt convicted that God was calling me to be a physician,” he said.

His journey to become a doctor led him to discover another passion that would define his career: serving his country.

As he was entering the college application process, he became familiar with the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, a program that allows a student to attend college with financial assistance in return for a service obligation. Upon receiving an acceptance to Duke University, he signed for a four year scholarship because he thought it would be a good way to serve his country and pay for college. While in college, he learned of the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. The program gives students the opportunity to become an officer in the Reserves while in medical school and transitions doctors to active duty upon graduation. After completing his undergraduate degree at Duke, Dr. Saguil decided to take the HPSP scholarship to attend the University of Florida College of Medicine to earn his MD and continue his military career.

The dual roles of physician and military officer were complementary for Dr. Saguil. He said that officers are expected to lead, which translates well to the role of a doctor. Both careers involve knowing and understanding people, whether that be patients or fellow soldiers.

Dr. Saguil’s first years as a military doctor were what he described as a very steep learning curve. When he graduated and got into a real working environment, things were different. He was no longer in a sheltered training program. He learned a lot by doing, trial and error, and simply listening to his patients.

“I found that it was a time of tremendous professional development,” he said.

Dr. Saguil chose family medicine as his specialty because he wanted to be the kind of doctor that could take care of everybody. Family medicine gives him the opportunity to take care of people in clinics, but also pregnant women, teens, and the elderly. In the Army, he also gets to apply emergency and trauma medicine. Some physicians that specialize in an organ or an age, he said, but with family medicine “it’s the whole person.”

During a 15 month deployment to Afghanistan beginning in 2007, Dr. Saguil served as chief of primary care for a NATO hospital. His complement of American healthcare workers provided the hospital ambulatory care, evacuation, and triage assets. There were many memorable things about his deployment to Afghanistan, but there was one event sticks out in his mind as most memorable: after a helicopter crash, he and his hospital and other medical units had to triage 11 people. That day there were lots of severe injuries, but those that reached the hospital alive were able to return to the United States.

His career as a military physician did not just impact Dr. Saguil, but the lives of his family as well. His wife comes from a military family herself, so military life was not a big surprise for her. Saguil said that for her, it was important to establish a sense of normalcy in the house and create an environment where the entire family knew they belonged.

Dr. Saguil’s sons were born in Florida and Virginia, and when they were young the family moved around quite a bit. They even lived in Germany from 2002 to 2004. They came to the Washington D.C. area in 2010, which was a bit harder for them than earlier moves because they were older.

Now a Colonel, Dr. Saguil works at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He first came to work at USU because they were searching for an Army family physician to work with students. After two years, the position of Associate Dean for Admissions opened up. He took the job because he thought it would bring his career full-circle, and he has held that position for over 6 years now.

The F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University is a medical school with a purpose to train, educate, prepare, and graduate military medical officers ready to take care of those who put themselves in harm’s way. Graduates work in the United States and in the world’s hotspots to support troops who do the hard work to defend their country. Upon graduation, it grants the Doctor of Medicine (MD), among other degrees

Saguil pointed out that, while it includes a medical school, USU is quite different from other medical schools across the country. It does not charge tuition and offers a salary of $65,000 per year. While at USU, students spend 16 months at the school in Bethesda, MD, rotate for 12 months, and can choose to rotate or go abroad during their final 18 months. Students can apply for their residency of choice and are required to serve the United States military for 7 years in their specialty afterward. They may serve for longer if they choose to do so.

Dr. Saguil’s job at USU has been a bit different from his previous positions. There is less practicing of medicine, but he still sees patients about four days a month. He teaches some, but said he spends a lot of time on the road and working with applicants looking to come to the university. He said that his job is not simply to speak with prospective students, but to make sure that the school selects the very best future doctors to take care of those in the military and their families.

“I like it,” Dr. Saguil said, “It’s a job that has a mission.”

Because he is leaving his position in 2019, Dr. Saguil took the time to look back on some of his most memorable moments at USU. He said he has enjoyed knowing the students, and he has tried to make himself equally accessible to everybody. He did, however, acknowledge that it is hard to know everyone as much as he’d like.

Even if he wishes he knew some of the students better, Dr. Saguil and his family make the most of the time they have with the students. The Saguil family enjoys frequent family game nights, and they even host game nights open to USU students. Dr. Saguil has a quite large game collection with board games from all over America and Europe.

Dr. Saguil also said that one part of the program at USU that he will miss in particular is Operation Bushmaster. The exercise takes place at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, where fourth year students practice the skills they learned at USU on “injured” first year students. Dr. Saguil said that he enjoyed seeing the students that he knew as interviewees and prospective students at the end of their med school experience.

While he is not quite sure yet where he will be going next, Dr. Saguil said he will miss many things about USU, especially his phenomenal colleagues and USU students. He even said he wished he had come to this position at the end of his career so that he could retire out of it, but he knows he still wants to serve his country for a few more years. He still has no regrets over taking this job when he did.

“When this job opened up, I didn’t want to let an opportunity like that go away,” Dr. Saguil said.

Tessa Minicozzi

Tessa Minicozzi is a senior double major in Political Science and Communications with a Journalism Emphasis at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. She is set to graduate in May 2019. She is currently the News Director and On Air Personality at WQSU 88.9 FM “The Pulse.”

Tessa Minicozzi has 1 posts and counting. See all posts by Tessa Minicozzi