USU medical student chose the Air Force "to honor grandfather"

US Air Force Medicine | 2022-07-12

By Ian Neligh

BETHESDA, MD.: Second Lt. Jonathan Buchinsky joined the United States Air Force to honor his grandfather’s decision to join the branch decades before, a choice that positively impacted his family for generations.

“Ultimately, I trace a lot back to him - and a lot of his development back to the Air Force,” says Buchinsky, a first-year medical student at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. “I’m thankful to the Air Force for that reason, and I’m excited to play my part in the future.”

Starting Out

Buchinsky, originally from Gainesville, Va., says he was drawn to helping others, in part, because both of his parents are family doctors.

“They would tell interesting stories that their patients told - or they would talk about the whole medical diagnosing process,” says Buchinsky. “(Medicine) was a part of my life growing up and so it was always on my radar.”

Specifically, Buchinsky says he was less influenced by the science of medicine but by the ability to care for another person in a way that positively affected their lives.

“Science is the conduit to do that but the way that they talked about medicine made it sound a lot more like building personal relationships and meeting practical needs - as opposed to any kind of scientific pathway and working through that,” Buchinsky says. “Those values helped instill in me my passion to help others.”

In college, Buchinsky says he looked for an opportunity to do just that and ended up becoming an Emergency Medical Technician, working on an ambulance with a rescue squad while attending the University of Virginia.

“I was exposed to the whole health care process through patient handoffs at the hospital and so I got a chance to interact with the nurses and doctors,” Buchinsky says. “Every once in a while I would sneak in a question or a comment - it was a cool opportunity to interact with others in a healthcare setting.”

Buchinsky says he clearly remembers the first life he helped save while working on an ambulance.

“I was still a junior EMT, and I was still in training and we got dispatched to a call where a man had a heart attack while shoveling snow,” Buchinsky says. “… I didn’t know a lot of things, but I did know how to do CPR and so that was what they had me do. That was gratifying because we were able to bring him back. ...I was able to do one thing to help that guy and that was CPR but it motivated me to learn how to do more things to help him.”

He says he realized he participated in only a very small part of the process and wanted to find an opportunity that would allow him to do more and so decided he would go to medical school.

USU was one of the many universities he put on his list of potential medical schools but soon realized it was exactly what he was looking for.

“When I interviewed, I got matched up with some upperclassmen and while talking to them I realized the school’s values aligned with my own personal values,” Buchinsky says. “Service was the biggest one that I identified with.”

When it came time to join a branch of the armed forces, he says it was always going to be the Air Force because of what the branch provided his family.

“My grandfather enlisted in the Air Force for four years, he was able to earn the GI bill through that, and through the GI bill he was able to be the first in his family to attend college and ultimately lift his family into the middle class,” Buchinsky says. “He came from a small factory town in New England and nearly all of his siblings, and both of his parents worked in this factory. He knew he wanted to do something different with his life, he knew he wanted to be an engineer and he knew he wanted to move out of the small town and create more opportunities for his kids.”

After getting out of the Air Force, Buchinsky’s grandfather became an engineer and ended up working for IBM. He says by doing that, his grandfather was able to provide opportunities for Buchinsky’s mother, who was then able to go to medical school, which ultimately inspired his journey.

The Future

Buchinsky attended the Officer Training School in Montgomery, Ala., at Maxwell Air Force Base, where he received his initial introduction into becoming a member of the Armed Forces.

The Air Force offers those going into healthcare a shortened Commissioned Officer Training, which consists of 5 and a half weeks, compared to the standard nine and a half.

During his training, Buchinsky learned about the fundamentals of military management, while learning to operate as an effective team member as he transitioned from civilian to military life. He also experienced the challenges of being in command and was rigorously tested on his leadership abilities.

“I’d never had an experience like that, any kind of military training, but I kind of knew what to expect because I’d been talking to upperclassmen, I knew they’d be waking us up early, that they’d be yelling at us when we did things wrong, that they would have expectations and that we would ultimately learn our place in the military,” says Buchinsky. “My whole mentality was I’m going to go, suck it up, get through it, I’m going to learn the role of an officer, and then I’m going to go to medical school and learn the role of a doctor.”

He says the ability to deal with pressure learned by working as an EMT translated well to dealing with the challenges of officer training.

“I enjoyed my experiences there and I got to meet a few of my (USU) classmates,” he says.

Now in his first year of USU’s medical school, Buchinsky says he’s looking forward to starting his clerkship so he can once again work in a hospital, talk to patients, and build relationships. He adds that one day he might be interested in going into emergency medicine, primary care, or family medicine.

“I think the most notable part of my story is the generational family values that started with my grandfather - and I trace a lot of that back to the Air Force which allowed him to give his family the life he wanted to give them,” he says. “It also allowed my parents to give me the life they wanted to give me.”