Life as a reserve medical officer in the RAF

GP and Squadron Leader Alex Norman has served in the RAF as a reserve medical officer (GP) for five years, based with 4626 Sqn at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. He explains what's involved with life in the RAF Reserves.

Squadron Leader Dr Alex Norman
Squadron Leader Dr Alex Norman

What first prompted you to join the RAF Medical Reserves as a medical officer (GP)?
I decided to become a GP around seven years ago, at this time British troops were active in Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick and I became aware of the RAF’s Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT).

I wanted the challenge to do something different. To me that meant the discipline of military life, travel, adventure, training and sport - all the extras you get with being in the RAF. Being a GP can be relatively isolating at times, however my weekends with the Squadron are a social occasion. They provide an opportunity to meet new people from different walks of life, gain fresh ideas and to offload from my civilian life.

Most importantly to me, joining the RAF Medical Reserves gave me the opportunity for deployment, which was what I really craved.

More about RAF Medical Reserves

The RAF Medical Reserves are looking to recruit Medical Officers (GP) to deliver world class specialist care.

We offer exciting opportunities to apply and develop your clinical skills in a unique and challenging environment.

Visit our website: www.raf.mod.uk/recruitment or call 0345 606 9069

This article is funded by the Royal Air Force for GP Connect

What training have you had to prepare you for your role in the RAF Reserves?
I started off with basic recruit training, which prepared me for military life and I was trained in weapon handling skills. I then went onto RAF College Cranwell to complete my initial officer training. I would sum this up as a management course that in the civilian world you would pay thousands for, of course in the RAF this training costs nothing.

By this point I had the skills and knowledge to prepare me for military life and any potential deployment. I then went onto complete the Military Aircraft Aircrew Medical Examiners course and the Aeromedical Evacuation course.

Prior to my first deployment I had the opportunity to shadow the senior medical officer at RAF Brize Norton Medical Centre to bring me up to speed with military specific paperwork and processes. More recently the RAF paid for me to attend the Royal Society of Medicine conference, affording me educational opportunities.

What do you most enjoy about being an RAF Medical Reservist?
I enjoy the military lifestyle and the mix of allied health professionals I serve with. For me it’s also about the added extras such as leadership, mentorship, navigation exercises, for example a few months back I found myself in the back of a RAF Hercules aircraft practising my aeromedical skills, and the social aspects of Squadron life. It really is eclectic.

What new skills have you developed during your time in the reserves and how have these skills helped you in your civilian life?
Having just taken up a partnership in a small practice, the leadership aspects of my training have been invaluable.

How do you balance your role as an RAF medical reserve and your role as a civilian GP?
It is tough, but I have to say it is very rewarding. The support you get from the Squadron is excellent and they are very understanding of my civilian life.

Have you been deployed on operations?
Yes, I deployed on Operation Shader, the operation against ISIS. I thoroughly enjoyed the mixture of patients I encountered whilst working in a military primary healthcare environment. I found there was a lot of cross over, and even got the chance to use my skills as a family practitioner.

How does the RAF role differ from your civilian role?
During my time on Squadron I hold the role and responsibility of flight commander, which challenges my leadership and command skills. Attending meetings on behalf of my flight requires me to hold diplomacy skills, authority and control to ensure the meeting stays on track.

Upholding military standards and ethos is an extremely important part of my role, particularly as a flight commander. However being in the RAF develops your confidence in carrying out the above.

Have you had opportunities to develop yourself outside of your main role as a medical officer (GP)?
Yes, as part of the RAF tri-athlete team. I have attended several weekend camps with the team. There are plenty of opportunities for you to take, and I have been embraced by the team. The RAF has so much to offer in terms of sport and adventure training.

What opportunities have you had for promotion?
I am due to complete my advanced leadership course in the near future which will allow me to progress to the rank of Wing Commander.

How does your practice support you with being an RAF reservist?
They are supportive. I always keep them in the loop and give plenty of notice to ensure they have adequate cover to support the practice in my absence. Our practice is due to merge with a larger practice which will also help.

What are your future plans in terms of being in the RAF Medical Reserves?
To definitely stay put. I would like to stay in and continue to do the interesting training and various opportunities the RAF offers. I will continue to maintain military standards of course - this means staying in date with my military specific training such as weapon handling.I want to continue to learn something new and exciting hopefully through future deployments and I am keen to build upon my military skills.

Being in the RAF Medical Reserves is very different to mundane life. It is fun, it gives transferable skills, and most importantly gives me a release from my civilian life. If you are a flexible GP, a portfolio GP who wants to do different things, then the RAF can support you in so many ways with sport and travel.

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