FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The COVID-19 global pandemic has thrown obstacles into everyone’s path, but Air Force Health Professions recruiters and their applicants are overcoming these challenges and motivating their colleagues and communities to step up to help others.
"Being an Air Force medic is more than a job, occupation or career, it is a higher calling," said Chief Master Sgt. G. Steve Cum, Chief, Medical Enlisted Force. "With that comes a responsibility to be your best when your patient is at their worst, to understand your role for the greater good of the mission, and to ensure your fellow medical teammates are as prepared as you, because one day, they may be the ones saving you."
The pandemic is increasing unemployment rates, driving many people to seek career paths in health sciences and military medicine.
“They look at us as job security and a way to give back,” stated Tech. Sgt. Ralph Hall Gonzalez, Health Professions recruiter, 318th Recruiting Squadron. “I've received about three times more applications than I did last year at this time.”
Many applicants are rising to the call for helping those in need. One such applicant, a psychiatry resident at a New York City hospital, had discussed the options of joining the Air Force prior to the pandemic.
“As soon as COVID-19 hit, the applicant has been focused on maintaining mental health for his patients,” Hall Gonzalez stated. “The applicant said he found the passion in his job and now wants to do the same thing while wearing a uniform.”
Tech. Sgt. BreAnn Hill, Health Professions recruiter, 348th Recruiting Squadron, has been working with several highly-qualified potential applicants since COVID-19.
“People are so excited to join the Air Force. They are motivated to serve, and protect those who are protecting us,” Hill said. “One of my nursing applicants planned to drive across country to help out in New York City hospitals during the height of the crisis. They really have a drive of service before self and caring for others.”
Hill tells her nurses they are “super heroes without the cape."
Tech. Sgt. Aaron Shields, a Health Professions recruiter with the 348th Recruiting Squadron, found one of his applicants already giving back. Personal protective equipment has been at a premium during the pandemic. The applicant worked with Fight for Aloha, a volunteer organization, to fabricate and deliver PPE to Queens Hospital in Honolulu where COVID-19 patients are being treated.
“COVID-19 PPE requirements are higher and must meet certain regulations,” Shields said. “We had to make sure they could actually use what we brought, and we also found some other places where they could use other forms of PPE. That is just the type of person we want to join Air Force Medicine.”
One applicant told Staff Sgt. Brandon McKeever, a Health Professional recruiter with the 342nd Recruiting Squadron, that their medical facility was running out of scrubs. Medical recruiters have Air Force-branded promotional full scrubs sets. McKeever coordinated with Vanderbilt Medical Center, in Nashville, Tennessee, and delivered 600 sets. Other recruiters are making similar donations helping the front line medical providers.
To ensure qualified medical profession candidates continue to join the Air Force, recruiters need to get creative during the pandemic. Many hospitals are not allowing guests, meaning recruiters are using other methods to connect with potential recruits.
“Everything has to be remote so we have to engage through Zoom and FaceTime which is more difficult than if you go out and see candidates face-to-face,” Hall Gonzalez said.
The pandemic makes the very process of joining the Air Force more challenging. Before recruits can accession and attend Officer Training School, they must first quarantine for 14 days. This slows the process and keeps the applicants away from their current employment.
“The challenge is trying to get them through the whole recruiting process,” said Tech. Sgt. Aaron Shields, 348th Recruiting Squadron Health Professions recruiter. “The military treatment facilities where our applicants get medically qualified aren’t screening anyone except mission-critical personnel. We reached out to the Navy in Okinawa, and, fortunately, a Navy clinic on Okinawa allowed some of our applicants to screen there.”
Recruiters and their applicants demonstrate their ability to overcome the barriers presented by the national health emergency.
“Our overall mission has not changed,” said Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Akridge, production superintendent of the 318th Recruiting Squadron. “We are always trying to inspire, engage and recruit the highest qualified medical officers. Recruiters have done a phenomenal job because they're resilient and they're going to find a way to get the mission done.”
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of recruiting qualified medical candidates for the Air Force.
"We need the best of the best, the best doctors, the best nurses, and the best medical professionals our nation has to offer," said Cum. "Are you ready to and able to answer the call?"