Doctor, doctor: Give me the news
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- From the silver screen, and television alike, the public has a stereotype for what they expect out of a doctor. Examples such as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce, Doogie Howser, M.D., Dr. J.D. Dorian, Dr. Greg House, and “America’s favorite” Dr. Derek Shepherd have set the bar for what you think of when you think of doctors.
Being a doctor may seem glamorous from movies and television, but as U.S. Air Force Maj. Geoffrey Garst, 31st Rescue Squadron flight surgeon, can attest, it is not what it may seem.
It’s much different than people may picture, Garst said. It is a lot of trauma, lots of sick people, and a lot of complicated patients.
Like many young children, Garst grew up wanting to explore the skies and rise above the clouds. He wanted to be a pilot and join the Air Force.
However, his dream shifted around 8th grade when he took up a love for the medical field. Knowing that the best path to being in the Air Force would be via medical school, he joined the Air Force while in medical school, on the Health Professions Scholarship Program, instead of taking a more traditional enlistment out of high school.
Garst, a Colorado native, attended the University of Colorado-Boulder for his bachelor's degree, then completed a master's degree in public health at Columbia University in New York. For medical school, Garst returned to Colorado, this time at the University of Colorado-Denver for medical school. After finishing his degrees, he attended a residency to get his license to be a surgeon.
“Combat search and rescue was on my radar early in the Air Force, since learning about it in officer training,” Garst said. “During medical school, I had considered whether to do a tour as a flight surgeon, but chose to go straight residency without delay because of the extensive training ahead of me -- five years of general surgery, plus two more of fellowship in trauma and acute care surgery.”
Garst did his residency training at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. In the middle of training (roughly 2.5 years), Garst said multiple events happened outside of his control in his personal life, including major illnesses and death in his family. These events, along with his questioning if surgery was the right career for him, led to the decision to take a step back and leave residency.
“I figured I could struggle through, maybe get through it, and be a mediocre surgeon,” Garst said. “But I don’t do mediocre anything.”
Garst’s journey to becoming a flight surgeon didn’t end there. Once Garst left his residency, he was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, working in family medicine. He was unable to get a role as a flight surgeon immediately, so the stop at Wright-Patterson gave him a chance to expand his abilities as a doctor.
“I liked the versatility of family medicine, but I still enjoyed trauma and taking care of sick people,” Garst said.
Wright-Patterson was just a stepping stone. Garst had his eye on an overseas assignment, and with his love of travel and wanting to see more of the world, the stars aligned to give him an opportunity to do what he does best.
After two years he was accepted into the flight surgeon position, and was assigned as the flight doctor here at Kadena Air Base with the 31st RQS.
“When I got this assignment, I was beyond stoked,” Garst said. “It was like everything that I had done up to that point was preparing me for this assignment.”
As flight surgeon, Garst is a man of many hats for the 31st RQS, and is responsible for a multitude of items for his Airmen. Most importantly, Garst is responsible for making sure they are fit to fly.
“I’m responsible for their medical care, their medical readiness, and making sure they’re ready to get out the door,” Garst said. “As the squadron medical director, it is my responsibility to provide continuing medical education and optimize their training as military medics.”
Garst is constantly working with his Airmen and putting efforts toward improving their abilities.
“I work with part of a team to deliver medical care, maximize medical training and human performance,” Garst said. “I cannot accomplish my mission without my team.”
Garst has set many goals for his Airmen, including trying to help them get more hands-on patient care at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the Pararescueman Special Operations Trauma Training Skills program. This training program is used by many pararescue squadrons to help hone skills that are needed to save lives and complete the mission safely, which are top priorities to Garst.
With vigilance and honor, as stated on the patches the members proudly wear, the pararescue Airmen from the 31st RQS are prepared and ready to defend Team Kadena, all of Okinawa, and their partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region at a moment’s notice.
When asked how he plans on leaving a mark on the Air Force, Garst had a very straight-forward response that should put anyone at ease who encounters any of the Airmen from the 31st RQS.
“I want to get these guys to be the best medics in the Air Force.”