The Story of an Army Doctor
by Maj. Douglas Lecker
Like many military physicians before him, Dr. Tom Hustead, a native of Manchester, New Hampshire, answered not only the call to serve as a medical professional, but the call to serve in the profession of arms as well.
Hustead's Army story begins when he was accepted into the military academy. In 1993, after earning a Bachelor of Life Science degree from the U.S. Army Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York and graduating in the top three percent of his class, Hustead went on to study at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated with an M.D. in 1997, with financial assistance provided by the U.S. Army F. Edward Herbert Health Profession Scholarship Program, and became a captain in the Army.
"Doc Hustead,” as soldiers called him, served with the 101st Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky from 2000 to 2003 as a flight surgeon (a senior advisor to the brigade commander). While he was deployed to Iraq with this unit, Hustead expressed how his medical and leadership skills were truly put to the test. “The combat care setting stresses the importance of performing when it counts most.” Hustead further stated that he was "…completely in awe of the American Soldier and what amazing men and women we have serving in our Army defending our Nation." As a result of his commendable work during that deployment, Hustead earned the prestigious Spurgeon Neel Army Flight Surgeon of the Year Award.
During his illustrious career, Hustead also served twice in Hawaii at the Tripler Army Medical Center. In between those assignments, he returned to USMA as a staff surgeon and ran the Cadet Clinic. His most recent assignment took him to Fort Knox, Kentucky as the Medical Corps Liaison with the Medical Recruiting Brigade. While in that position, Hustead traveled to hospitals, clinics and medical schools where he talked about his experiences in the Army and the opportunities available for the military healthcare provider.
Hustead proclaims that the Army has given him a rich career of diverse opportunities. He has held various clinical, academic, operational, supervisory and leadership positions in Army medicine. Furthermore, Hustead has served in humanitarian missions in Thailand and Indonesia as well. These medical diplomacy missions assisted in nation building by developing relationships with local physicians and military leaders as well as exposing the growing clinician to diverse research opportunities. Hustead believes that all of these career enhancing endeavors help to expand a physician’s skill set in order to set him up to work in any area of medicine after leaving the military. He notes how Army medicine veterans have transitioned from the military to set up practices in their hometowns, large metropolitan healthcare systems, the finest universities and institutions and even in the halls of Congress.
The U.S. Army helps provide these opportunities for qualified individuals right from the start by providing scholarships for medical schooling. Hustead used the Health Professions Scholarship Program to fund his medical education by paying for his tuition, required books and a stipend for 10 and ½ months as well as 45 days of paid Active Duty wages. Hustead would say that this scholarship and his career in the military has secured his financial future while providing him with the most rewarding and exciting career in medicine that he could have ever imagined.
From a patient care perspective, the vast selection of high-tech equipment accessible at many military medical facilities is equal to or even better than some civilian medical facilities. Furthermore, the military is occasionally able to incorporate research from its programs into treatment opportunities for service members and their families.
Another key component of physicians serving in the military is their training in the dynamics and benefits of a team-oriented medical approach. Army medicine is leading the way in a movement towards a revolutionary system for healthcare, moving away from a system that is focused on episodic care and treatment of disease. Such a multi-disciplinary team may involve a primary care physician, a variety of field specialists and a psychiatric practitioner to ensure the most complete care for every patient. Each medical practitioner on the team is involved in determining how patients are treated within their individual areas of expertise in order to help achieve the best possible outcome.
Army medicine continues to work to improve medical care during deployments, at home station and in civilian medicine. Looking at innovative developments, the Army has aided in the development of the chitosan bandage, which uses carbohydrates from the shells of shrimp, lobster and other animals to bond with blood cells and stop bleeding. This is beneficial on both the battlefield and in the civilian medical environment. Yet another Army medicine innovation is in the area of burn care. One of the biggest issues in treating burns is fluid regulation to the wound. Army medicine has helped invent the Burn Resuscitation Decision Support System to assist health care providers in analyzing the amount of fluid to give to patients, pointing to yet another novelty that is dually applicable in the Army and at our local hospitals.
The Army Medical Command manages a budget greater than $13 billion and cares for more than 3.95 million beneficiaries, active-duty members of all services, retirees and their family members. Army medicine is a seamless chain of care stretching from deployed sites to fixed hospitals in Europe and the United States, where beneficiaries receive state-of-the-art care. While facing multiple challenges of war, peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and caring for Soldiers, the Army stills makes its mark.
Along with his life in the active Army, Hustead has been happily married for over 20 years. He is a father to three children and his family has accompanied him in all the different places, from Hawaii to his current assignment in Belgium. He states that his family has had many fantastic life opportunities they would never have accessed if he had chosen a different career path. He believes that this has helped them grow closer and become tolerant to change.
So what’s the best part about being Army brats for his kids? "As an Army brat myself,” Hustead said, “[I saw] it was the great example of service and leadership from my father. As well as all the different places we got to live and having friends all over the country it brings family together and we learn resiliency."
Whether you have decided on a civilian career in medicine or are still unsure, Army medicine is definitely worth looking into. In addition to providing you with the highest skill set for managing patients and caring for them, you will be propelled on a track of progress and greater understanding of the world. Who knows, you might very well get to lead your life like Doc Hustead?