Childhood loss guides one to become AF physician

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Katrina Heikkinen
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Every week at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Clinic, more than 100 Airmen, dependents or retirees apprehensively - or assuredly - make their way to a doctor's appointment in the Family Health Clinic. Although some are receiving annual exams for preventative care, for others, they hope a medical provider can solve what may be an acute condition.

For Capt. Trevor Peterson, 341st Medical Operations Squadron Family Health Clinic member, he is one of three physicians who care for 2,700 patients.

"Every day is 25 new stories," Peterson said. "From routine health appointments such as checking cholesterol, blood pressure and treating risk factors for heart disease, to acute visits for abdominal pain, back pain and insomnia - I see everything and anything."

After completing his undergraduate degree in genetics at the University of California in Davis, Calif., in 2005, Peterson was accepted into the Health Professions Scholarship Program through the Air Force and graduated from medical school in 2009. Upon completing his graduate degree, he was required to complete three years of residency at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., where he was a supervised provider before entering the active-duty Air Force in 2012 as a physician. At 30 years of age, this is Peterson's second year out of school - ever.

"I always wanted to go into medicine because I had a real fondness for people and science," Peterson said. "I started out doing lab research studying molecular genetics, but I found that interacting with people was really what I was most interested in. Over time, I found a love and passion in helping and meeting people in their lowest states and getting to see them through that process of healing and growing."

On a typical day, Peterson spends six hours with patients in one-on-one appointments. He then spends the rest of the day documenting every appointment, answering questions on MiCare, reviewing x-ray, lab and consultation results from downtown referrals, and doing minor surgeries on Fridays.

"The workload is steady," he said. "There's always more work to be done; there are always more patients to be seen, but you do your best to handle everything you can. In routine family health in the community [outside of the Air Force] you don't worry about profiles, deployability, diseases that can come back from a deployment or the mission of the Air Force."

A native of Fresno, Calif., Peterson says he has no direct family members who served in the military, but that he was inspired to join the Air Force after 9/11 and as a physician because of his father.

"Part of my motivation stemmed from the fact that my father died from cancer when I was about 3 years old," Peterson said. "I know the effect a loss can have on a family. I remember at one point thinking I would like to change that for somebody else; if in my entire career I could save just one person's life, it was totally worth it."

His appetite for the outdoors and wilderness medicine also inspired his choice to join the Air Force, all in hopes of practicing Third-World medicine in a deployed location.

"I really believed in the mission of the military and protecting the United States," he said. "I have always wanted to do low-resource medicine and one of my out-of-work pursuits is getting my fellowship in wilderness medicine. This year I started volunteering for the Great Falls Ski Patrol at Showdown Ski Resort because I thought it would be a good way to start practicing first aid and medical responses in the outdoors. I like the challenge of being in a situation of having to figure out answers and treatment plans when you don't have all the tools you normally would."

Ski Patrol is just one selfless way Peterson leads by example by giving back to the community. He also serves as the medical director of the 341st Medical Group, assisting the chief medical officer by taking over his duties in his absence and is the primary educator for cholesterol and heart disease risk factor prevention throughout the clinic.

"Dr. Peterson is not an average military doctor," said Airman 1st Class Cavan Quam, 341st MDOS medical technician. "He genuinely cares for all of his patients and the dedication he puts into his work is unreal. Seeing how he works with people and what he teaches me every day alone is a huge morale booster for me. Becoming a successful family practice doctor at the age of 29 in the United States Air Force has made him a huge inspiration to me."

Peterson says one of the most important aspects of his job is humility because learning never stops.

"Being able to play a role in someone's recovery is so rewarding," Peterson said. "I think that preventive medicine is great, but the truth is that bad things happen to good people. When I can watch the patient celebrate their health and feel like I played a role, even if it's just a small role, oftentimes all I do is reassure people - you're going to get better. It's nice to be there to celebrate with them when they finally do."

When Peterson isn't busy seeing patients at the clinic, he can be found fishing on Belt Creek, hiking on the Rocky Mountain Front with his wife, Siri, or hunting for pheasants with his German short-haired pointer, Belle.