20 Questions with Dr. Richard Lane, MD, MPH & TM​

Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Laura Turner

Dr. Richard Lane attended University of Maryland where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Zoology with a concentration in oceanography and his Doctor of Medicine in 1982. He proceeded to earn his Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine degree from Tulane University four years later. He completed an Aerospace Medicine Primary Course in 1981, Internship in Flexible Medicine in 1983, and then completed his Residency in Aerospace Medicine in 1987 at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas. He is a licensed physician and surgeon in Virginia and Maryland and is a diplomate of the American Board of Preventive Medicine in Aerospace Medicine and of the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Dr. Lane served in the Air Force as a Major where he began his professional career as a Squadron Flight Surgeon, Chief of Aeromedical Services, and Individual Mobilization Augmentee. After his Air Force career, Dr. Lane moved to Virginia where he practiced medicine in a variety of settings including as a university campus physician, director of student health services, medical review officer, occupational medicine physician, and sports team physician.

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Following many years of working in the public health scene at community, national, and international levels he founded and became the director of Liberty University’s Master of Public Health program. Additionally, he has held many adjunct professor positions at various universities. He has contributed to the medical and public health field through numerous publications, papers, professional societies, and presentations. He has also imparted his valuable expertise through his volunteer work including working in over 20 countries, participating in many civic activities, and being interviewed and consulted on a wide range of public health topics.

Dr. Richard Lane has recently retired and enjoys life on the beach with his wife allowing him to relish in his first passion of oceanography and travel to national parks.

1. Dr. Lane, when did you first decide to become a physician? Why? What in your life drove you to this decision and how has that opened other opportunities beyond becoming a physician (e.g., military career, public health, travel)?

My sophomore year of college.

I had run out of funds to pay for my undergraduate education and was offered a Health Professions Scholarship Program slot by the Air Force. The decision to take the opportunity changed the direction of my life. Ultimately, the offer led me to become a flight surgeon and pursue an MPH degree as part of the residency in aerospace medicine.

2. How/why did you choose the medical school you attended?

Location. Although my education was totally funded, the funds to afford the application and interviewing process were not. I limited myself to a single application at a school relatively nearby. My scholarship required me to only apply to one school and included a contingency to pay back my obligation should I not be accepted. I applied early decision to University of Maryland and received an acceptance letter about two weeks after my interview.

3. What surprised you the most about your medical studies?

The inadequacy and errors of my previous education. Much of the information I had learned had been over-simplified to the point of the exclusion of vital information needed to understand the research behind the facts and the ramifications of those facts.

4. You have become an expert in many medical and health areas along with education. Why did you choose your medical specialty? Why did you also choose to lean into these other areas (e.g., public health and education)?

As an Air Force scholarship recipient, I quickly learned that the needs of the Air Force came first. I started my post-grad medical education in internal medicine but was called to active duty after the first year to be a general medical officer. Between my third and fourth years as a med student, I had taken the primary aerospace medicine course, so the Air Force assigned me into a squadron flight surgeon position with the 16th Tactical Recon Squadron taking care of the pilots and navigators (and their families) and flying the RF-4c. That assignment opened doors to fly many other high-performance aircraft and the invitation to seek an MPH. I chose to attend Tulane for the Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine (MPH&TM) degree option. I completed the Residency in Aerospace Medicine and to continue to develop my experiences with tropical diseases through other Air Force opportunities.

I separated from the Air Force after 6 years and completed a few years with the reserves teaching a deployment medicine course to AF reserve health professionals, many who would later deploy to the middle east. My civilian job included clinical and teaching responsibilities at Liberty University. As part of the practice I made full advantage of international travel opportunities and provided consultations for missionaries and others at risk for tropical diseases abroad. For many years, I was the lead medical trainer for a team engaged in training educators about HIV/AIDS prevention through wise decision-making strategies. Those experiences prepared me to develop public health curriculum for the final stage in my medical career as the Director of MPH Program at Liberty.

5. If you had to do it all over again, would you still choose your specialty? Why are why not?

I have always taken every step without regrets. Every experience establishes groundwork for the future opportunities. Yes, I could have made more money through other choices but my path shaped me so I would not change a thing. Even my retirement activities have roots in my career choices.

6. Has being a physician met your expectations? Why or why not?

My only expectations entering the medical field was the idea of a debt-free start with good employment prospects and the ability to help others. I have gained much more.

7. What do you like most about being a physician along with the other aspects of your career?

Relationships are the most important part of being a physician. Corporation driven medical care misses that part of medicine. For me the goal was never productivity but relationship. My former patients and students still reach out to me periodically because the trust my opinions and value the relationships I established. Those relationships extend internationally.

8. What do you like least about being a physician or what has been some of the difficult aspects of your career?

The over-reliance on computers for decision-making. The average primary care provider spends about 16 minutes per patient completing the computer database required for the interaction. To me, those are 16 minutes which could be better spent understanding the patient.

9. Dr. Lane, you have had many different roles and therefore different typical days of work. Can you choose your favorite role and describe what a typical day at work was like?

Most of my life, I worked at least 12-hour days.

My actual schedule changed often. In the Air Force, I had many board and committee meetings throughout the day beginning at 7am and going to about 5pm. Flight surgeons are basically public health officers and required to evaluate public health risks and develop programming to reduce the risks. I spent the typical day between meetings in clinical and administrative duties in the flight medicine office. Once a week, I would be at the squadron building to mission plan and then fly. Weekends and evenings might involve coverage of the ER or on-call duties for in-flight emergencies and environmental concerns.

At Liberty I began teaching microbiology and practicing in the clinic during the day. I alternated call with another doctor to give 24/7 for the needs of the student body. Evenings and Saturdays were usually spent providing sports medicine coverage for the athletic teams. My final years added more academic responsibilities and the final five years of my role as the MPH Director left little time for clinical work.

10. On average, how many hours did you work a week? How many hours did you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?

The work week was anywhere from 60 to 90 hours. During the larger part of my career, I spent at least four weeks a year traveling internationally to provide education and consultation (usually without the expectation of compensation) to developing regions. I took an average of two weeks of “vacation.” Early in my career, I had 1 week and in the final years, I took four weeks; however, I typically had work related projects to accomplish during my breaks. I sleep at least six hours but usually aim for eight hours. My typical sleep cycle is divided in two portions. I often awaken in the middle of the night with some type of inspiration and take advantage of the time to write.

11. Do you feel you have enough time to spend with your family? Why or why not? Can you describe how your career has affected this throughout various seasons?

Medicine definitely intrudes into family-life. Call, in particular, often pulls a physician away from family activities.

12. How do you balance work and your hobbies?

It isn’t always possible. Medicine, more than most other professions, requires a sacrifice of personal time. Anyone entering the field must feel called to make those sacrifices.

13. Do you feel that you have been adequately compensated?

Hard to answer this one. Compensation includes more than financial gain.

14. If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a strain? Please explain. What advice would you give students who want to pursue a similar career but face seemingly insurmountable debt due to educational loans?

Think twice about taking on debt. I had no financial support from my family but because of the Air Force scholarship, I had no debts. Students should weigh the options and look at financing opportunities beyond loans to pay for education.

15. In your position now, knowing what you do, what would you say to yourself back when you started your medical career?

It will be okay. The stress during the educational process often weighs heavy and appears to have no end. It will end.

16. What information/advice do you wish you had known prior to beginning medical school?

Anything! I had no role models. I was the first in my family to even attend college. I had no idea of what was ahead.

17. From your perspective, what is the biggest problem with healthcare today? Please explain.

The costs. CEOs of the pharmaceutical and health care corporations put profits ahead of patients. Health care requires relationship and must consider the burden of finances to enhance patient trust.

18. Where do you see your specialties (aerospace medicine, public health, tropical medicine, family medicine) in five years?

I think more emphasis must be placed on prevention. Each of these specialties have opportunities to develop preventive strategies.

19. What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?

In my retirement, I have continued to serve on the boards for several non-profits. I also continue my environmental protection interests in a sea turtle protection program in my town.

20. What’s your advice for students pursuing a career as a physician?

Think of a back-up career. Too many students major in a subject in hopes of medical school admission but do not make the cut. Choose a major with the highest potential for an alternative career. Find something you enjoy and consider how it might fit into your medical career or as an alternative. For me, my original degree was zoology with a marine science concentration. My volunteer work with sea turtles fit me perfectly.

Thank you to Dr. Richard Lane for taking the time to speak with Student Doctor Network. Note, this interview was completed several months ago prior to the widespread outbreak of COVID-19.