James Sze commissioned into US Army Reserve
Inspiration at the VA
Public service has always been important to Dr. James Sze, clinical instructor (General Internal Medicine). Since completing his residency in the UW Internal Medicine Residency Program 2021, Sze has been a member of the Seattle VA and been inspired by the stories of veterans and staff members (many of whom are veterans themselves).
Among his inspirations, Sze said "They remind me every day of the promise and ideals of America, and what it means to safeguard those things."
Serving in uniform in particular, though, has always been something he was interested in, and recently he felt the time was right to take action. Sze decided to apply for the US Army Reserve Medical Corps.
"I was pleasantly surprised to find that the oath one takes to join the armed forces is very similar to the oath we took when joining the VA."
"When I first started, I had the mistaken impression that I would walk into the recruiting station and have to commit to shipping off to training 2 weeks later," Sze said.
In reality, the process takes several months, particularly for physicians/officers. After the application process, consisting of forms, interviews, letters of reference, statement of purpose, background checks and physical exam, the packet is sent to the Army's selection board for review.
"Note that age is not an obstacle to joining, and that there are reservists well into their 50s and 60s joining the Medical Corps," Sze said.
A "scroll" is then generated and sent to Congress to request a commission and upon acceptance, one can take the Oath of Commissioned Officers.
For Sze, his acceptance came and he said he was lucky to be able to take his oath in the presence of his work family at "our very own beloved VA".
"In addition to friends and family, I have to say I couldn't have done any of this without the support of Dr. Rudy Rodriguez (Director of Hospital and Specialty Medicine), Dr. Paul Cornia (Section Chief of Hospital Medicine), Dr. Sandra Demars (Deputy Section Chief of Hospital Medicine), Mercy Sobrevilla of our service line, my entire hospitalist group, and everyone else at the Seattle VA."
What comes next?
As of Friday, January 26th, Sze is now a captain in the US Army Reserve. He is assigned to the 7451st Medical Operations Readiness Unit (MORU) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) here in Washington.
After he receive orders, Sze will go through various Army trainings and attend the Basic Officer Leadership Course for the Medical Corps in Texas.
After training, Army reservists report to their units one weekend a month and then 2 weeks in the summer for training every year. For medical staff, there is a lot more flexibility, as attending conferences, CME activities, or performing more clinical duty at your civilian hospital can supplant reporting to one's unit.
"Essentially, I still get to be a full-time VA doctor, and now a part-time doctor for the Army," he says.
"How many moonlighting gigs let you ride in a blackhawk helicopter or learn how to jump out of airplanes?!"
However, the reality is also that reservists must be prepared to deploy at any time, even during peacetime.
Sze says his hope is to undertake additional training offered by the Department of Defense (like the Military Tropical Medicine Course) and then to volunteer for a deployment.
"I'm certain that being a reservist will make me a better VA doctor, and vice versa, and I am excited for this adventure ahead."
He is happy to talk with others about this process and provide details, or even to connections with his recruiter, about whom Sze shares, "He is an amazing soldier and human being with whom I have bonded over the last several months."
"In his words: 'Look, I'm going to give everything to you straight, because at the end of the day, if I get hit, I want a good doctor who wants to be there. I want good docs for my brothers and sisters in uniform, someone who's going to see them as their brothers and sisters too.'"