CHEST Thought Leader Blog Life as a Critical Care Fellow in the Military: How Did I End up Here and What Does It Mean?

Life as a Critical Care Fellow in the Military: How Did I End up Here and What Does It Mean?

By: Tara Brown, MD

If someone told me when I started college that I would eventually join the military for medical school and postgraduate training, I would have told them they were crazy. Fast forward 17 years and I’ve spent the last 11, and most of my adult life, as active duty in the United States Army. Most people who meet me outside of uniform are usually pretty surprised I’m in the military, and honestly, sometimes I am too. Spending a decade of time in the armed services, as well as the COVID pandemic, has made me reflect on how I ended up on this path and where it’s taken me in the process.

I remember the exact moment I decided I wanted to be a military physician. One night following work and studying for the MCATs, I turned on the television and watched a documentary. The video followed wounded warriors from their battlefield injury to higher levels of care and showcased the physicians who cared for them along the way. These physicians described how important their military medical education had been in preparing them to care for these soldiers, and I began to think that maybe this was a higher calling for me than even medicine itself. Within a year, I had applied for and been accepted into the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and been sworn into the United States Army. While I may not have thought the final destination of my training would be the same as what I saw in that documentary, I find myself completing my time in my military medical training in that same final ICU you see in the video, having taken care of multiple wounded warriors along the way.

I’m graduating from fellowship in 2 months, and maybe its end, in combination with the rigors of the last year for all of us, has led me to even more self-introspection. Not only have I been a part of the medical care team for an amazing group of men and women returning injured from overseas, but more recently, I’ve seen many of my attendings answer the call to help provide medical care for patients with COVID wherever there’s a need, flying all over the country at a moment’s notice. Between my training at Brooke Army Medical Center and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as well as the superb civilian institutions I’ve been lucky to train at along the way, I know I now feel prepared to answer this same call myself—so similar to that documentary I saw almost a dozen years ago. And while the military may throw some surprises along the way, and I’m certainly a different person than I was at the beginning of this journey, I wholeheartedly believe I’m incredibly lucky to have taken care of such amazing patients and made some lifelong friends with my military family in the process.


Tara Brown, MD
Dr. Tara Brown is a graduate of the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. After completing her internal medicine training at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, she completed a Chief of Residents year. She will graduate from pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship in June 2021 from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, where she will remain as faculty.