So, I need some help…
You see, I have been the primary physician for what is known as the United States Navy’s Officer Candidate School, or better known as OCS, for the past 13 months. In that relatively short period of time I completed just over 3000 office visits (and that number would have been more but once COVID-19 it was as if things slowed down a little). From things like Pink eye, skin rashes, ruptured eardrums, pulled muscles, rolled ankles, fractured fingers, dislocated shoulders, concussions, abdominal pain, fainting…the list goes on and on. And some of these injuries are bad, and do cause one to be sidelined for a couple of days, and sometimes even a few weeks. Some students will even be considered “not physically qualified” if an injury is bad enough and then they will be removed from training all together.
And I truly do love the work I do and the opportunity and privilege that has been bestowed upon me to help others.
But here is where I suffer.
You see, I went to OCS myself some 20 years ago…and things were just a little different back then. You did not go to medical for every little knick, cut or bruise. You knew that the 13-week training course would be tough. You knew that your classmates would be trudging along just like you until that final day when you would be commissioned as a US Naval Officer. You ACTUALLY knew what you were signing up for. And you knew when you actually needed to go to medical.
But times have changed. When I chose to join the Navy, you had to take and pass a fitness test with your recruiter. My roommate Chris and I, who still happens to be in the Navy as well, were lacing up our running shoes, and doing push-ups and sit-ups non-stop so that we could get the best score possible.
Nowadays, people simply want to pass. I hate to use such a blanket statement, but the truth is that the fire in these students’ bellies is just not the same. Perhaps 4 or 5 out of 100 students in a given class desire to get the absolute best fitness score possible, while the rest just want the bare minimum. I see it every single day. And I try to give them some grace, but it is hard when students roll into my office having failed another test because they could only muster 10 pushups in 2 minutes, or could not run a mile and half under 13 minutes.
You see, there are score tables on-line that everyone can see before they head off to OCS to for training. Plenty of time to decide if this is the right step, the right career path, the right opportunity.
You know what you have to do. And there has not been a DRAFT since the Vietnam War, so no one is forcing you to join the military. I always hope they are joining for the right reasons and I get that it is exciting to think about being a fighter pilot, Navy SEAL, intelligence officer, or getting to drive a big bad warship. Throw in some free money for college and a chance to see the world and well…
What troubles me are the tears that I see over and over again. I am all about showing emotion when appropriate…being Stoic has its time and place. And I am all about failure…I fail every single day…and I would not have it any other way because it is how we ultimately grow. But I have students crying daily (maybe I am exaggerating just a bit, but I have had over 50 students crying in my office over the past year, so we are looking at an average of almost one student per week).
I try to mentor these folks that line up outside my office on a regular basis. I never tell them, “back when I was in your shoes OCS was much different.” Whether these students are 22, 25, or 33 years old, it has not mattered one bit. Many are afraid to accept the reality of not passing a test and being yelled at by a feisty United States Marine Corps drill instructor while doing an array of activities. Many have a hard time looking at themselves in the mirror.
So I ask, what would you do differently if you were in my position caring for these students? Just wondering. Have a great day!