USU alumna honored as U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeon of the Year (2022)

  • Published
  • By Sharon Holland
  • Uniformed Services University
U.S. Air Force physician Maj. (Dr.) Courtney Beaver was too busy as she left Kabul International Airport to take a last look at Afghanistan. The 92nd Medical Group flight surgeon was focused on tending to the hundreds of evacuees on the C-17 aircraft, making sure they were medically ready to make the journey to their next destination. Below, as the lights grew further and further away, citizens were still desperately trying to leave, and the U.S. was winding down its presence in Afghanistan.
USU alumna honored as U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeon of the Year (1)

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“Some had nothing but the clothes on their backs, and some had never been on a plane before, but we were a way to escape the conflict that had overrun their homes,” Beaver says.

Beaver, a Uniformed Services University class of 2018 graduate, had been in Afghanistan and Germany for three months to support Operation Allies Refuge, the largest civilian airlift in history. Her role was important: she was the lead physician in her deployed unit to provide medical care both in the air as a member of an aeromedical evacuation team, and on the ground, where she led a team of nurses and medics in triaging and caring for hundreds of refugees with limited resources. She worked with numerous specialty teams, the military hospital network, non-governmental agencies, and aeromedical evacuation teams to identify, treat, and transport patients based on their unique medical needs.

Only three years out of medical school, Beaver was now the sole flight surgeon across three of the Air Force’s Combatant Commands to support the operation, but she was well qualified for the job.

During medical school at USU, Beaver says she suspected that she would need to do a general medical officer tour to be more competitive when apply for residency training, so she particularly focused on the trauma and triaging training incorporated into the university’s curriculum, and during her surgical internship year, she spent six months doing trauma surgery at a Level 1 trauma center.

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Following her internship year, she successfully completed flight surgery training and was assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state. Over the next two years, prior to her deployment, Beaver spent time flying or training for mass casualty scenarios, visiting with the public health and bioenvironmental engineering teams to ensure workplace safety, and conducting clinic for the flyers and other special duty personnel - all in addition to the specialized training she completed. She served as the commander of the Flight and Operational Medicine division and oversaw the Base Operation Medical Clinic, as well as the Warfighter, Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer and Flight Medicine clinics.

Beaver strongly advocated on behalf of her unit, balancing the needs of her people with both medical and operational mission requirements. Because of manning shortages due to FEMA COVID-19 vaccine taskings, she designed a comprehensive clinical restructuring to ensure continued medical support for the Airmen and their families.

Beaver’s reach went beyond her unit. Her work with the Air Combat Command’s 509th Weapons School made a dramatic impression across their aircrew. She was welcomed as a part of the crew during every flight. She took a strong interest in educating and caring for incentive flight passengers and students on the principles and physiology of flight and the impact of aviation medicine. She also covered the 97th Aerial Refueling Squadron’s medical needs, taking ownership of that squadron’s mission and medical readiness, while leading and mentoring its embedded medics.

“As a flight surgeon, I completed the SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) aircrew training program, I've trained on Search and Rescue with my local rescue squadron, and I have flown with the rescue unit (UH-1s), refueling squadrons/weapons school (KC135s), our Army Guard unit (UH-72s), and worked closely with my SERE squadrons to address occupational hazards and as a medical advisor for the SERE training pipeline,” she says. In fact, she worked with the SERE Water Survival shop to start an immersion course that brought medical personnel from Public Health, Bioenvironmental Engineering, Physical Therapy, and the active duty clinics to the Water Survival course, attuning them to the operational mission. The immersion course has been used by the Water Survival shop to help with outreach to other squadrons across the Wing to develop an understanding of their operations.

Her work also reached beyond Air Force assets at Fairchild Air Force Base. She worked with the local Washington Army Air National Guard battalion commander, state flight surgeon, and their medical assets to ensure continued adherence to the Army’s flight physical needs and she reignited an incentive flight program that allows medical personnel to fly with the Army in their UH-72s.

Beaver’s relationships with all of the units are invaluable to the flyers as well as their commanders.

“It’s amazing to me how closely tied into ops I am as a flight surgeon, and how we as flight docs are the subject matter experts - I have actively participated in the meetings to develop COVID-19 contingency plans at the beginning of the pandemic, and I have had a meaningful seat at the table with commanders when discussing the welfare of their personnel,” she says.

“As a specialty, many people have no idea what flight surgeons do, but we are often the first ones that people turn to when there are medical concerns in the operational world. I'm glad to know that I'm doing the job well enough to do right by my people!”

– U.S. Air Force physician Maj. (Dr.) Courtney Beaver

In August 2021, she flew into Afghanistan on the last day of evacuations.

(Video) How To Become a Flight Surgeon

“There was something absolutely wild about loading onto a C17 with a crew I had just met and flying to Afghanistan to support the evacuation,” she says. Over the time she spent deployed, Beaver worked with the combined air and ground teams to take care of evacuees when there was a stop movement put into effect.

“After our initial mission ended and most of the medical staff were sent back home, I was requested to remain in-theater to assist with the care of the refugees and with aeromedical evacuation missions due to my ability to identify care needs, integrate into a variety of teams, and overcome obstacles to ensure patient care occurred,” she says. When the obstetrics teams needed help, she stepped in to assist.

“Because no one knew how many pregnant refugees were at the base (one number estimated 2,000 pregnant women of unknown gestational age), I was able to work with the EMEDs and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center OB teams, the OB teams flown in to help support flying pregnant people to their permanent homes, and translators (both officially assigned and evacuees who could help), and we went tent to tent to speak with families to help identify pregnant women and get them the prenatal care they needed,” Beaver says. “Being able to work with a team like that and getting to walk among the evacuees was an amazing and surreal experience.”

Once she returned home, Beaver received the Air Force Achievement Medal for her actions during deployment, and her contributions to the evacuation of Afghan refugees from Kabul led to submission for an Air Medal by her deployed command team. She was also selected as the Air Mobility Command Flight Surgeon of the Year. However, in May 2022 Beaver received major recognition, not only for her achievements on deployment, but for her overall contributions to the Air Force as a flight surgeon when she was selected as the Flight Surgeon of the Year by the Society of U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeons as the recipient of its Malcolm C. Grow Award for 2021.

The Malcolm C. Grow Award recognizes outstanding contributions of Air Force flight surgeons to the flying organization. Candidates for the award must have “demonstrated an outstanding concern for flying personnel as indicated by unusual rapport with flyers and by exceptionally effective support of a flying organization.”

“Throughout her time at Fairchild Air Force Base, and especially over the past year, Capt. Courtney Beaver has embodied the true purpose of flight medicine through her devotion to the safety of flight in virtually every way she has been tested. Her bond to the aviation community has not only created a culture of health, safety, and readiness, she has been a bridge between the medical community and our operators,” said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Gary D’Orazio, USU class of 2009, who nominated her for the award.

Beaver is the latest in a long line of USU graduates to earn the coveted award. The first USU alumni were eligible to receive the award starting in 1982. Since then, USU recipients have included:

1986 – Robert Kadlec – class of 1983

1987 – Kimberly Slawinski – class of 1984

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1988 – Howard Suls – class of 1985

1993 – Peter Mapes – class of 1986

1998 – Mark Koeniger – class of 1992

2000 – John Andrus – class of 1993

2016 – Philip Flatau – class of 2008

2017 – Jacob Berry – class of 2013

2019 – Thomas Skinner – class of 2010

2020 – Roselyn Fuentes – class of 2010

“Winning the award was very much a surprise (as was being nominated to represent the entirety of Air Mobility Command). It was an awesome feeling being selected and to have the Air Force powers-that-be validate that the hard work I've been putting in for my squadrons is what we want flight surgeons to be doing,” Beaver says. “As a specialty, many people have no idea what flight surgeons do, but we are often the first ones that people turn to when there are medical concerns in the operational world. I'm glad to know that I'm doing the job well enough to do right by my people!”

(Video) U.S. Air Force: Lt Col Tony Waldroup, Physician

FAQs

What rank is a Flight Surgeon in the Air Force? ›

Qualified physicians are offered a direct commission into the Air Force, entering the service at the rank of captain (pay grade O-3).

Do Air Force flight surgeons fly? ›

Consequently, to this day, their successor U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeons are considered "aeronautically rated" aircrew members who receive flight pay and who are required to fly a certain number of hours monthly.

Where are flight surgeons stationed? ›

USAF Flight Surgeon Assignments
  • Active Duty CONUS Bases.
  • Joint Bases.
  • USAF Europe Bases (USAFE)
  • Pacific Air Force Bases (PACAF)
  • Central Command Bases (CENTCOM)
  • Air National Guard (ANG)/ USAF Reserve (USAFR) Bases.

Can military doctors fly planes? ›

The U.S. Armed forces have derived such value from flight surgeons taking flight that they have created highly specialized programs that allow selected individuals to become dual qualified as military pilots and doctors. The US Navy has a handful of individuals that wear both flight surgeon and pilot wings.

How much do Air Force flight surgeons make? ›

$291,591. The estimated total pay for a Flight Surgeon at US Air Force is $291,591 per year.

Is a flight surgeon a pilot? ›

The title “flight surgeon” is a bit confusing, because most of these doctors are not pilots, nor do they perform surgery. However, they do work to help crew members navigate extreme stress and medical problems they face while working in the air or in space.

How hard is it to become a flight surgeon? ›

To become a flight surgeon, you must first endure a long road of preparative training and obtain a medical doctorate (MD) or a doctorate of osteopathic medicine (DO). This normally takes about six to eight years of college coursework and hospital residency.

DO flight surgeons get deployed? ›

One emergency medicine resident is training now to become a Naval flight surgeon, and when he completes training, he will attach to a jet and helicopter squadron and deploy with those soldiers as their front line physician.

How much does a NASA flight surgeon make? ›

$342,440/yr

Do flight surgeons see combat? ›

As a Flight Surgeon, you will fly into combat and humanitarian situations to administer emergency medical care. Often, you will care for patients both on the ground and in the air.

How long does it take to be a flight surgeon? ›

The Navy's flight surgeon training course is twenty- four weeks long. Classes convene three times a year at the Naval Aerospace Medicine Institute.

How long is flight surgeon residency? ›

All of the programs are 2-year training programs. Fellows will gain the skills to become an aerospace specialist and will be leaders, educators, researchers, administrators, and master clinicians in this field.

What is a US Air Force flight surgeon? ›

Aerospace Medicine Specialists/Flight Surgeons are primary care physicians for pilots and crewmembers traveling in air or space.

How long does it take to become a flight surgeon? ›

The Navy's flight surgeon training course is twenty- four weeks long. Classes convene three times a year at the Naval Aerospace Medicine Institute.

What is the duty of a flight surgeon? ›

Job Overview

As a Flight Surgeon, you will fly into combat and humanitarian situations to administer emergency medical care. Often, you will care for patients both on the ground and in the air. In doing so, you will be an expert in the specialized field of aviation medicine, also called flight medicine.

How many flight surgeons are there? ›

There are over 1,056 Flight Surgeons in the United States.

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