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How do you serve your country and treat your patients at the same time?

Dr. Sara Burdash, a practicing emergency medicine physician in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is in her twelfth year of military service as a field surgeon in the U.S. Army National Guard. She trains future medics, participates in basic training, and ensures the next generation of military physicians are prepared for the future.

On Nov. 16, Dr. Burdash invited medical students on Figure 1 to ask what it’s really like to balance the demands of civilian work with that of a field surgeon. Here are a few highlights.

What’s something you always keep in your scrubs or battle dress uniform?

I also tend to have a 14g needle and for deployments we’re all issued tourniquets and such. Oh, and duct tape. Always. Not in your pocket, but it should be near. It’s like a security blanket. Permanent marker. Really, it’s so useful.

I’m trying to narrow down my specialty options. Emergency medicine is one of my top three…what pushed you to that field?

I like emergency medicine for a few reasons. I love making a differential dx, doing the work-up, and making the diagnosis myself. I intellectually just wasn’t as excited about cases where they already figured out the problem.

I also really like that it’s hands on, but not only [in the] operating room. I get too impatient to be in the OR all day. I need to move around more.

What other specialties are compatible with military service or in high demand for the armed services?

Emergency medicine is a good fit for a lot of it, but so many specialties can partake…primary care, urology, dermatology, etc., but you can also do many other.

How do you balance family life while practicing medicine in the military?

First, be open in communication with your loved ones in advance of stressful times. If I know I have a really busy few weeks with my civilian work plus a drill weekend for the National Guard coming up, I will warn my husband. That way, they know beforehand. It’s good preventative medicine.

Otherwise, be organized. I want to be so organized that I have time for spontaneity. I want my ducks in such neat rows that of course I have time to go out to a movie, because everything else is done.

Is it common for military physicians to have broader responsibilities than their civilian counterparts?

It is a bit different. As an MD in my position, we have a lot more broad oversight and scope, if you will. In my “field surgeon” role, I am a physician for our medical company. We are designed to be able to go and support an area and so we have ambulance platoon and treatment platoon within that, of which I help oversee both. You may be like an EMS director ensuring the ambulance medics have good protocols and support.


Learn more from Dr. Sara Burdash about her role in the Army National Guard on the free Figure 1 app.