By Col. Meg Carey, 92nd Medical Group
/ Published June 07, 2017
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- As I prepare to retire in a few weeks, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my career and the opportunities that I have been given that have made my Air Force experience the greatest ever. As I make this transition, I wanted to share some of my lessons learned that have enhanced my career and my life.
I entered the Air Force because as a nurse I was moving from job to job, every year or two. And every time I changed jobs and moved to a different hospital, I lost seniority and had to start at the bottom and had to prove myself over and over. So after discussion with my soon to be husband, who was an Air Force Veteran, we decided a career in the Air Force would allow me to move every few years and still move up the ranks.
So, with my dream to become a nurse anesthetist, I raised my hand and was commissioned as a 1st lieutenant and we headed off to Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. My recruiter said with my experience, I would be good in the emergency room or intensive care unit, but the Air Force had different plans for me.
Instead I was assigned to the pediatric unit, where I learned that I had a passion for taking care of kids and their parents. So when the opportunity to presented to try for an Air Force Institute of Technology scholarship, I was lucky enough to be selected and headed to the University of Florida to pursue studies toward my new dream, to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Of course I forgot to mention, I spent four and a half years at that first assignment, the longest I had held a job in my entire life, but that is okay, I was headed back to Florida and the beach! So my lesson learned is to first have a goal, but to also be flexible. Every person that I have met during my years at the Medical Group, I ask what their goal is. Most are “return to school,” “learn my job,” and I tell them, yes goal number one is to learn your job and be the best (fill your job here) you can be, but then I tell them to be on the look out for what they want to do in the future.
So as supervisors and leaders, know what the dreams are for your Airmen. Help them succeed in their present job, but help them work toward achieving their goals. The Air Force has so many opportunities, in the form of education, jobs, assignments, special duties, and even though the first one may not work out just as you would have liked, there are always more to come.
Be patient, you may not be able to do everything, or you may not be able to do it right away, but I believe there is a plan for each of us and we just need to be ready when it is presented to us. And sometimes giving the future a chance to find you is the best decision you can make.
Lesson Number Two: Give honest feedback often and receive feedback well. I PCS’d to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, just after receiving word that I was selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel. I requested a PCS to return to Florida for obvious reasons (duh, they have a beach and I can see my Gators) and at the time I thought that was the right thing for our family. However, I found out later, it was not the best move for my career; it was a “lateral” move, same job and same size base.
Soon after arriving, my group commander brought me in for a feedback session. She asked me if I wanted to be a colonel, and of course I said yes! Well she flat out told me that wasn’t going to happen as she proceeded to draw boxes on the paper and began showing me what it takes to be a Colonel. Of the four or five boxes she drew, I did not have any of them checked. Imagine my surprise, no one ever told me you needed to do these things to get promoted. I thought if you did your job and did it well, the Air Force would reward me.
This honest feedback, although it was hard to hear, encouraged me to work even harder to prove her wrong. But being the great leader that she was, she didn’t stop at just giving me this feedback, she worked with me over the next few years, pushing me for those “opportunities to excel” as she would call them. She mentored me and by the time I left Patrick, she helped me check a few of those boxes.
She also encouraged me (that is not a strong enough word) she forced me to apply for a waiver so that I could compete for squadron command earlier than I had planned and soon I was on my way to command the 36th Medical Operations Squadron at Andersen AFB, Guam. Her honest feedback at that point in my career truly is the reason I am where I am at today. Even though she is retired, she continues to track my career and reach out often.
For the supervisors and leaders out there, honest feedback is essential to help our people know how to improve. Step one of this process is to make sure that you have clearly laid out your expectations, so that they have a road map. And then don’t just stand on the sidelines, become their cheerleader by helping them stay motivated; be their road guard by helping them navigate the bumpy, windy roads, and then finally celebrate their successes with them.
Just remember sometimes the best thing for a few of our Airmen is to become civilians again. We need to help them make these hard decisions and transitions as well. Feedback is critical to mission success, but also personal success, make it a priority and take it seriously.
Lesson Number Three: Experience Life and maintain balance! After 12 moves and 10 bases, the Air Force has provided my family with the opportunity to explore this great world. Get out of your dorm rooms and get involved in the community. Pack up the kids and take a road trip. Moving often is hard on everyone, but make the most of where you are.
That push to compete for squadron command early had repercussions for my children; each attended three different high schools. I know that was hard for them, but because of it, they will agree that they have had experiences that most people only dream of. They have climbed the Great Wall of China, dove at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, spent Spring Break in Seoul, Korea, and celebrated the New Year on the beaches of Fiji. So in this time when our operations tempo is so high and the future is uncertain, take those moments every day to recharge.
From going outside and sitting on a bench to eat lunch, appreciating a gorgeous sunset on your way home from work, or other things that make you happy—make it a priority. Here I want to do a plug for the Air Force MWR programs, what a great perk. This is one that the Air Force, in my opinion gets right. They put together trips, celebrations, events that focus on helping us “take a break”. But however you do it, please take the time to look around and explore the world around you…life is short and it flies by.
My final lesson is to be thankful. Although my Air Force career has had its ups and downs, zigs and zags, happy times and sad times, I wouldn’t want to change a thing. I am thankful to my family for their support and strength and resilience, they have been through so much for me. I am thankful to all of my peers, supervisors, mentors and friends over the years that have helped me become the professional, the officer, and the leader I am today. I wish I could list them all here.
I am so thankful for the Airmen, “big A” to include the active duty, Guard, civilian and contractors, across the base and all military members around the world that work hard every day and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to make sure that we all continue to have the liberties and freedom we enjoy today.
I am especially thankful for the opportunity to lead an outstanding team of superstars, the “Mighty Medics” at the 92nd Medical Group. Over the past three years, you have amazed me with your hard work, perseverance and positive attitudes, making it a joy for me to come to work each and every day. Your accomplishments and commitment to high reliability and process improvement fill me with pride. You are making history and because of your efforts, the Military Health System will be a safer, more efficient healthcare system as the MHS GENESIS journey continues. You were the trailblazers, please continue to be diligent and keep patient safety in the forefront.
My final thank you goes out to the patients of the 92nd MDG. We know this transition has not been easy on you either, but we appreciate your patience with us as we learned how to navigate the new workflows and work out the kinks—it is getting better, but we still have more improvements to make. Your ongoing feedback helps us keep our focus on patient-centered care and assists us in prioritizing our resources as we strive to improve your patient experience. Please become partners in your healthcare, utilize the MHS GENESIS patient portal, ask us the hard questions and help us provide you with Trusted Care.
After 26 years of service to the United States, there is so much more I would like to say, but I will stop here. On your travels, if you ever see Curt and I traveling around in our RV, hanging at the beach, fishing off the pier or whacking the white ball on the golf course, please come by and say hello. We will miss you all, God Bless You and God Bless America.