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November 10, 2023

UW Health Med Flight was a natural fit for Army veteran

Dr. Ryan Newberry during his deployment to Afghanistan
Dr. Ryan Newberry, left, during one of his two deployments to Afghanistan

Program has a history of employing veterans and reservists

MADISON, Wis. — Working as a flight physician in a helicopter is something Dr. Ryan Newberry had on his mind since high school, but so was military service.

The military gave him the chance, in the end, to do both.

After he graduated from high school in Freeport, Ill., in 1998, Newberry began training as a firefighter and paramedic. He worked for the Freeport and Rockford fire departments, but in 2008, the lure of military service beckoned him — as did medicine.

The United States was involved in two wars overseas at the time, which helped make the decision easier for him, according to Newberry.

“I was struggling with the decision to leave the fire service to become a physician and the military offered me the best of both worlds: The opportunity to become a physician in a culture that I valued,” he said. “Specifically, the military and the fire service always place the mission and selfless service above any one individual.”

Newberry joined the U.S. Army, which provided his medical school and residency training, and served for 13 years. His service included three tours overseas, including a non-combat stop in England as an exchange military officer with the British Army, where he was a flight physician, and two combat tours to Afghanistan as the emergency physician on U.S. Army Forward Resuscitation and Surgical teams. During his deployments to Afghanistan, he cared for military personnel critically injured in combat before they reached the hospital.

There were two aspects of his military career he found to be particularly impactful for the future of his career.

First, his residency training in emergency medicine and fellowship training in pre-hospital medicine made him a physician capable of providing world-class health care anywhere in the world — whether it is a battlefield, a helicopter, a plane or a hospital.

Second, his pre-deployment training and combat tours focused on critical and trauma care in resource-limited and harsh environments, working as a part of a team getting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the hospital and then back home.

With this combined experience and expertise, Newberry began working for UW Health Med Flight in 2019 as a flight physician, traveling back to Wisconsin during periods of military leave.

“Joining the Med Flight team was another long-term goal achieved, and a sense of coming full circle,” he said. “I started as a paramedic in northern Illinois, and Med Flight was a natural fit that afforded me the opportunity to bring all I had learned in the military to the communities we serve.”

After his active military service ended in 2022, the BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health offered Newberry a full-time faculty position, working as a flight physician with Med Flight and as an assistant professor of emergency medicine. Newberry's roles included duties at University Hospital and East Madison Hospital, as well as being the assistant medical director for Med Flight and the director for the UW Health Med Flight Fellowship Program.

Med Flight has a history of hiring veterans, which was clear to Newberry, he said.

“The transition from active military service to civilian life is not insignificant and is unique for each veteran with professional and personal challenges that are influenced by their experiences in the military,” Newberry said. “Fortunately, Med Flight was very supportive in helping me make that transition successfully.”

UW Health also supports veterans as well as actively serving members of the armed forces reserves through the Military Employee Resource Group, a voluntary, employee-led group that supports engagement and contributions in the workplace, creates a sense of belonging, provides training and mentoring, and aligns the organization’s needs with its members.

UW Health also serves as a member of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce, the Veterans Administration Business Advisory Council Hire-A-Vet and Compensated Work Therapy programs, Army PaYS (Partnership for Your Success) program and participates in programming and services offered through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Office of Veteran Services.

Currently, Med Flight employs more than a dozen veterans, three or more former military reservists and two people actively serving in the armed forces reserves. Veterans alone make up slightly more than 10% of the Med Flight workforce — that is more than the general population, where veterans make up about 6%, according to 2021 U.S. census data.

The reason why so many veterans pursue a career with Med Flight post-service is a matter of compatibility, according to Dr. Andrew Cathers, medical director, UW Health Med Flight.

“Their skillsets really mesh well with what we do here,” he said. “There is a lot of overlap, especially with the trauma aspect.”

However, the relationship is not one-sided, Cathers said.

“We can use the lessons they’ve learned overseas and apply them here; it’s very mutually beneficial,” he said.

That relationship is evident in Newberry’s life. In fact, every day he uses something learned in the military in his job at Med Flight, he said.

“My time in the military has made me a better leader, physician and a better person,” he said. “It prepared me to practice medicine at the highest level of care outside the hospital.”