Lien (TJ) Tran worked for two years as a flight surgeon for the U.S. Air Force before starting his Occupational and Environmental medicine residency at UCSF in June 2013. Stationed at Fairchild Air Force base in Spokane, Washington, TJ was the Squadron Medical Element (SME) for the 92d Air Refueling Squadron. His responsibilities included providing medical support service to all flyers and their families.
“A flyer is anyone who has wings,” says TJ. Flyers include fixed and rotary wing pilots, “boomers” or boom operators, “jumpers” or troops who are parachutists, and other personnel with aeronautical rating. “The planes we flew refuel other planes in the air and our motto is ‘Dantibus Damus-We Give So That You May Give,’” adds TJ. As part of a team of four flight surgeons he was deployed every two to three months. He earned his air and achievement medals on his second deployment.
As a flight surgeon, TJ recognized that occupational and environmental factors weighed into many of the health issues he saw in clinical practice. When the troops who refueled the jets complained of back pain, for example, TJ and his team came up with ergonomic solutions to resolve the problem. While deployed to remote military locations, he worked closely with public health officials and bioenvironmental engineers to ensure the safety of food and water for service members.
Conducting hearing conservation programs for aviation and machine shop workers, toxicology investigations related to environmental and occupational exposures like jet fuel, and conducting Initial Flying Class exams for those who enlist to become flyers, helped prepare TJ for his chosen career.
“When I decided to look around for an occupational medicine residency, my preference was the West Coast, somewhere with nice weather, and I was fortunate to learn UCSF offers this specialty,” says TJ. A California native, he chose UCSF because it was close to family and is a renowned institution, and it gave him the chance to learn from experts like Dr. Paul Blanc and Dr. Robert Harrison, whom he calls “grand masters” of the field. “Eventually I will head back to the military,” notes TJ, “but if any issues arise I know I have friends at UCSF like Paul and Bob to refer back to for help.”
When TJ completes his residency in June 2015 and returns to the US Air Force, he plans to obtain his pilot’s license. He admits willingly, “I’m interested in being a flight surgeon because I get to fly.”
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