Many UF College of Medicine students can recall the moment in their past when they realized medicine was their future.
For U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kathleen Ehresmann, MS1, that moment occurred at 500 feet.
In 2006, Ehresmann worked as a medical evacuation pilot in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her close contact with medical professionals as she helped transfer returning service members to safety convinced her of what would be next in her future. Her decision came after more than a decade of military service.
“The Navy gave me opportunities to work with other people and take on challenging missions with myriad aspects of who and what is involved,” she says. “As a pilot, I was working very closely with the medical community in the Navy and the Army. That got me back into the sciences and pursuing a career in medicine.”
She says her military career, in addition to her extensive study of East Asian languages, equipped her with skill sets she’ll need as a physician.
“I’ve learned how to talk to people with different backgrounds from my own and the best way to approach sensitive topics,” she says. “It’s about bridging the gap between the two of us.”
Her career included flying a helicopter from Pensacola to New Orleans to bring resources and perform search and rescue missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and operating a communications center to coordinate relief efforts in Tohoku, Japan, after it was hit with a tsunami and earthquake in 2011.
She recalls a situation in Kuwait in which she flew a service member who had been stabbed to a medical care facility.
“I had a vested interest in the patient,” she says. “It was so exciting and scary to know the fate of that patient rested with me.”
Today, Ehresmann spends all her time as a new medical student.
“So far it’s been overwhelming. I’m not sure if my approach to academics is the right one,” she says. “I’ve been assured this uncertainty is a natural feeling, and I feel very supported here.”
After she graduates from medical school, Ehresmann hopes to specialize in an area that treats patients facing uncertain times.
When she’s not focused on her studies, Ehresmann spends time with her husband of 13 years and their children, ages 13, 8 and 3. They experiment with international cuisine, visit parks and museums and play video games together.
She says her life journey is the result of making the right decisions at the right time for herself.
“I was not prepared to sign on for a career in medicine as an undergraduate,” she says. “Eventually, though, I came back. I found that medicine was right for me now. It was a very well planned-out path.”