A Day in the Life of a Fourth Year Medical Student: Surgery at Walter Reed

Bridget Colgan '17
Bridget Colgan ’17

As a member of the U.S. Army, Bridget Colgan ’17 has a different match experience than many of her peers. She applied to both the military Joint Service Graduate Medical Education Selection Board (JSGMESB) and the civilian Electronic Residency Application Service, with a goal of matching at a military institution in the specialty of her choice. Although she learned of her match earlier than her peers, she will reveal the location during Match Day here at the Larner College of Medicine on March 17. Learn more about Colgan’s military service, her experience with the military match, and her surgery acting internship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Why did you decide to serve in the military?
I was commissioned to the Army a few days before beginning medical school, so I have been in three and a half years as of August 8. I joined for several reasons. I am receiving the Health Professions Scholarship, which is a military program that pays for medical school, many expenses (such as board exams and textbooks), and includes a stipend for our living expenses. I had always considered joining the military – I almost went to the Air Force Academy out of high school – but chose to pursue music instead. Then as a musician, I considered doing the ROTC program for military bands out of high school, and then after college auditioned for a few of the military bands. I even had the opportunity to play with the West Point band while I was in college, so it was always on my mind. As a military surgeon I have a great opportunity to lead a useful life. Someone once said to me the best part of being a military physician is that we have two jobs – we are doctors, but we are also officers in the United States Military, and we are entrusted with that responsibility as well.

Can you talk a little about your rotation at Walter Reed, and its connection to the military match?
This rotation was an acting internship. In the Army, it also served as my “ADT” or “active duty training.” I am required to do 45 days of an ADT each year of medical school and this counted as my third (out of four) ADT. I did my fourth in Hawaii from August 28 to September 24.

The acting internships that I do with the Army are also called “interview rotations” because the military process is slightly different from civilian in that when we do rotations at military hospitals they include our interview for residency. While I was there I had an interview with the assistant program director and the program director, and another phone interview with a third attending the week I returned back to Vermont.

Why did you decide to complete your surgery acting internship at Walter Reed?
Choosing where to do an ADT is important because these are interview rotations, and the Army strongly suggests rotating at hospitals where I would be happy if I matched for residency. I had heard good things about Walter Reed’s program and the hospital; not only is it near Washington, D.C., but it is across the street from the National Institutes of Health, and there is an opportunity for me to do my fourth year research year at NIH in cardiothoracic surgery. I lived in Virginia for three years prior to medical school and it feels like a second home to me. My family is from New York, so it is also the closest military hospital to them out of those I have to choose from for residency.

What were some of the highlights during your time at Walter Reed?
I worked on the Trauma/Acute Care Service called TACS. I was able to get a lot of time in the OR; I got to drive the camera for almost all the laparoscopic cholecystectomies that came in, and I got to be really good at this by the end of the rotation. I spent one afternoon during my first week in the sim lab working on suturing and knot tying, and this was really helpful for me for the remainder of the rotation. I got to close after most cases or put in staples if we did not suture at the end of the case. I felt all my skills really improved throughout this rotation. My OR highlight was probably placing a rectal tube for a case of C. Diff Colitis, after which the attending told everyone in the room, “Watch out, Doctor coming through,” referring to me as the doctor. Even though it was a silly situation, I felt in that moment I had made the next step in my involvement with patient care and as a member of the team.

How will your time at Walter Reed inform your future practice?
As my first exposure to military medicine, it helped me gain an awareness of what awaits me in the future. Although it is very similar to the civilian medicine I have experienced, I also treated a few wounded warriors and many veterans, and one four star general from World War II, which was a unique experience. I had a lot of anxiety going into the rotation. Walter Reed seemed like a huge hospital; at first I had no idea how I could fit in there, but I had an amazing time. It made me realize how far I have come in my medical education. I am excited about my decision to become a surgeon, and I look forward to working with excellent military surgeons like those I met at Walter Reed.

Read more about Colgan and several of her classmates in a photo essay on the fourth year of medical school, coming out in the spring 2017 issue of Vermont Medicine.

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