After forced spending cuts put the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron,“The Blue Angels,” on the ground for a year, the Angels have gone airborne once again, with Lieutenant Commander Mark DeBuse (MED ’09) serving as the team’s official flight surgeon, following in the steps of Lt. Cmdr. Mark Lambert (MED ’00).
DeBuse was chosen for this position through a highly selective application process and is beginning his second year on tour with the Angels.
As flight surgeon, DeBuse is responsible for helping the team maintain optimal health and physical condition. For demonstration pilots travelling at extremely high speeds and low altitudes, something as minor as a head cold can be life-threatening.
“My patients are among the healthiest and the fittest individuals on the planet,” DeBuse said. “My job is to keep them that way.”
DeBuse, a Colorado native, decided to attend the United States Naval Academy with an interest in both medicine and aviation.
“I wanted to pursue both,” DeBuse said, “but I knew it would be easier for me to do aviation first.”
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1996, DeBuse attended flight school in Pensacola, Fla., and subsequently spent nine years as a naval flight officer. When it came time to apply to medical school, Georgetown was his first choice.
“The idea of a well-rounded education aimed at eventful service was what I wanted, and Georgetown’s tradition of cura personalis absolutely fit me,” DeBuse said. Despite the 10-year age difference between him and most of his younger classmates, DeBuse said he loved his time at Georgetown and even participated in a Liberal Studies program.
“[It] provided a great balance to the science-heavy medical school curriculum,” he said.
After completing medical school and an orthopedic surgery internship at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., DeBuse elected to defer the remainder of his residency in order to become a flight surgeon, thus following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather who was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 bombing and went on to become one of the Navy’s first-ever flight surgeons.
“He was very proud to have served, especially in a capacity that allowed him to take care of his fellow servicemen,” DeBuse said. “I wanted to do the same.”
Nearly 70 years after his grandfather, DeBuse completed the aerospace medicine course at the Naval Aerospace Medicine Institute and was officially designated a naval flight surgeon.
His decision to apply for a position with the Blue Angels came after talking with friend and former classmate Lambert, who served as the Angels’ flight surgeon from 2006 to 2008.
Lambert and DeBuse met during their undergraduate years at the Naval Academy where they ran on the track team together. Unlike DeBuse, however, Lambert attended the Georgetown University School of Medicine immediately after graduation.
While at Georgetown, Lambert formed close bonds with his classmates, with many of whom he still maintains frequent contact. He also got to know many of the deans and professors of the medical school and noted how they would often invite students to dinner or to do community service.
“My professors were so supportive of us,” Lambert said. “And that’s part of what made Georgetown so special.”
During his time at Georgetown, Lambert was exposed to many different specialties and surgical rotations, but in his third year, he found his passion in the anesthesiology department. After graduating in 2000, he completed a transitional internship in Bethesda before entering flight surgery school.
Lambert completed a two-year tour as flight surgeon at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, followed by another two-year tour with the Naval Reserve squadron at Whidbey Island, Wash; before becoming the flight surgeon for the Blue Angels.
At first, Lambert found it challenging to live in the public eye.
“I went into medicine because I wanted to be behind the scenes and help people,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for recognition.”
However, travelling and serving with the Angels proved to be a rewarding experience, during which he had the opportunity to visit schools and talk with potential medical students and military personnel and to visit children’s hospitals
“Seeing the kids’ eyes light up as we walked through in our uniforms made it all worth it,” Lambert remarked.
For Lambert, the Blue Angels team was just like a family. Even now, he keeps in close touch with many of the team members, both old and new. He recalled how DeBuse reached out to him during his application process.
“I could tell he really, really wanted to join the team,” Lambert said. “I remember calling him the day he got accepted and congratulating him. He was so excited, and I’m excited for him.”
DeBuse said that traveling with the team until November will be a true honor.
“Georgetown definitely prepared me for the mission of the Blue Angels,” he said. “My time with them has made me a better person, and next year, when I return to my specialty training in orthopedic surgery, I know for certain that having been a part of this high-performing team will translate into being a better physician and surgeon.”