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Independents' Day

Sky’s the limit as an RAF medical officer

Fast jets and celebrity medicals are all in a day’s work for RAF GP Wing Commander Jon Griffiths

Fast jets and celebrity medicals are all in a day's work for RAF GP Wing Commander Jon Griffiths

Life in a light blue uniform is never dull. I am senior medical officer at RAF Cottesmore, home to the joint force Harrier fleet of fast jets, where I head up a 26-strong primary health care team. I find the work challenging and rewarding.

Our 2,600 patients are served by three GP principals, a GP registrar, nurses, physiotherapy staff, medical assistants, admin support staff and a visiting midwife, health visitor and a CPN. We are a paperless practice and see almost all of our patients the same day. We also have our own well-stocked dispensary.

The RAF sponsored me to complete a Diploma in Aviation Medicine, enabling me to advise on all medical aspects of high performance flying. I have a lot of contact with the Harrier pilots who are aviators at the top of their profession. Assessing the pilots in their aircraft and giving squadron-wide briefings is a regular part of my job. Because of the nature of the Harrier jet, we also get to perform medicals on various celebrities who are sometimes flown in one of the two-seater planes.

The RAF places great emphasis on physical fitness, so our on-site primary care rehab facility, with physiotherapist and remedial instructor, is highly valued. A military GP is able to devote considerable attention to ensuring his or her patients have the highest fitness standards. All medical centre staff get to participate in adventurous training; we recently spent a weekend team building in the Lake District. I have learned to sail and scuba dive.

Though many of our patients are fit service men and women, we also care for their dependents and see a broad spectrum of family medicine. We have a full range of paediatric cases and a higher than national average rate of obstetric care. We are an accredited GP training practice with a regular throughput of highly motivated and capable registrars who achieve excellent exam results. As a GP trainer, I am affiliated with the local training scheme to ensure registrars get a full range of training, and we even host the local training group on base. Postgraduate medical education for doctors is well supported, with excellent military and external resources.

Military medicine is very expeditionary, and I have worked in the Balkans, the Gulf and the Falkland Islands. These brief periods away offer a change in routine. They have also exposed me to operational medicine I would never see in the UK such as aero-medical evacuation service for all ill and injured personnel where doctors assess and accompany patients aboard aircraft.

We get training in all aspects and are accompanied by highly skilled nursing and support staff. We can even become involved in search and rescue missions.

Before being sent to an RAF station, I spent three months on initial officer training. All military doctors are trained in this way. I did my training at RAF Cranwell, where there was great deal of emphasis on leadership and team working, plus a lot of outdoor activities.

Social life on an RAF station is lively, varied and family friendly, from coffee mornings to grand summer balls and sporting events. We also have access to top-class gym equipment. And there is the added bonus of the security of bringing up a young family within the confines of an armed perimeter gate.

I have just completed 10 highly rewarding years as an RAF GP, and would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it as a career.

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