LIEUTENANT-COMMANDER SEBASTIAN VUONG: I’m Lieutenant-Commander Sebastian Vuong from Brampton, Ontario. I’m a Medical Officer currently posted to Canadian Forces Base Borden.
Medical Officers serve an important role in the Canadian Armed Forces, providing direct care to uniformed men and women both at home and abroad. Serving as a Medical Officer means practising family medicine (or an impressive variety of advanced specialties) at the highest level – without the responsibilities, distractions, and expenses of maintaining a private office.
VUONG: Practice in the military happens in a very interdisciplinary and team-oriented environment, which may differ from a lot of civilian practices. We work with medics, physician assistants, pharmacists, nurses, social workers, lab techs, x-ray techs, clinical psychologists – and it’s very much a team-based approach when providing health care.
As leaders of a proficient and highly motivated healthcare team, Medical Officers can be assigned to work in a clinical setting or in the field to deliver primary health care services.
Medical Officers have the opportunity to continually upgrade their knowledge and skills. Many spend part of their service maintaining and enhancing their clinical skills in some of Canada’s leading civilian medical centres.
VUONG: Practising medicine as a Canadian Armed Forces Medical Officer means that there’s a critical occupational health component. Your patients are generally younger, healthier, more fit individuals. So they’re also motivated to take charge of their health. While we may not have the full breadth of exposure to family medicine in our military practice, we do have the opportunity, in a civilian setting, to be able to continue to see things like pediatrics and neonates and the elderly.
But there are also unlimited opportunities – and adventures – that can include overseas deployments with the Army, Navy and Air Force; humanitarian missions to developing countries; as well as rugged outdoor exercises.
VUONG: First and foremost, I think that practising medicine in the military compared to a civilian setting presents a lot more diverse clinical practice environments, which is something that’s very attractive to me.
In times of conflict, Medical Officers rise to a unique challenge: to meet the urgent needs of field hospitals and trauma wards on the front lines. For many Medical Officers, serving Canada’s fighting men and women in an operational environment is a moving and unforgettable experience.
VUONG: So I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to deploy overseas. My first mission was providing medical screening for Syrian refugees. I will never forget a family – when the father asked me, “Will my children have a future in Canada? Will they have the opportunity?” and that was really their main focus. My parents themselves were refugees from Vietnam, and they escaped the Vietnam war and came to Canada. And I was able to look at them and say: “Just look right in front of you” and kind of relate and connect in that way. So that was a really powerful and defining moment in my career.
Once they complete their entry-level occupational training, most Medical Officers begin their military career with a three- to four-year posting at a Canadian Forces Base as a General Duty Medical Officer.
During their initial four-year posting, Medical Officers can expect to deploy at least once on either a humanitarian or disaster-relief mission, or to a conflict or post-conflict region.
Medical Officers have great opportunities for professional growth and development. After several years on the job, they may have the opportunity to apply for fully subsidized specialty training in fields that include radiology, orthopaedics, general surgery, anesthesiology, psychiatry, internal medicine, as well as physical medicine and rehabilitation. There are also unique opportunities for specialized training in submarine, aviation and diving medicine, aeromedical evacuation, nuclear and biological warfare response, occupational medicine and special operations.
VUONG: I’m currently a flight surgeon, which means that I provide health care to air crew as well as advise on flight safety matters, and on occasion, deploy with squadrons overseas.
VUONG: When I joined the military, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve really been pleasantly surprised so far. Just being able to travel to different parts of the world and to be able to deliver health care in different settings has been a huge highlight of my career. Almost equally to that is the camaraderie and the teamwork. Whenever I retire from the military, I’ll most remember the people that I served with.