Physician follows calling down different path, ends at Tinker

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Editor's note: This is the seventh story in a nine-article series about military providers assigned to Tinker.

Like his peers, Dr. (Maj.) Spencer Checketts has an affinity for math, science and helping others.

But, the 72nd Aerospace Medicine Occupational Medicine physician also has an advantage that sets him apart from them -- he is a childhood Leukemia cancer survivor. Medicine was a natural fit for him.

"He's a good people advocate," said Lt. Col. Jean-Felix Cyriaque, Occupational Medicine Flight Commander and Dr. Checketts supervisor. "Our profession is about promoting and maintaining a healthy work force. Because of his commitment to taking care of people, he will be a great asset to Tinker."

Following graduation from Utah State University in 1998, Dr. Checketts attended medical school at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He hoped to become a trauma surgeon.

"That was my goal in life," Dr. Checketts said. "But, I realized I wanted more in life than living in a hospital and taking care of the very-injured patients. And, I didn't want to have a heart attack before I was 50."

Dr. Checketts first explored the Navy upon acceptance to Drexel University, but quickly decided it wasn't a good fit for him. He then spoke with an Air Force recruiter, but learned the Health Professions Scholarship Program, in which the Air Force pays for schooling and in turn, the student repays the military by serving, was full for that year. But, that didn't stop Dr. Checketts; he joined the program for his remaining three years.

Upon graduation, Dr. Checketts completed his internship in general surgery then opted to fulfill his military commitment.

When Dr. Checketts opted to pay back his military time, he was stationed as a general medical officer at a family practice clinic in England. In working with the squadrons, Dr. Checketts said he made a discovery.

"I realized a lot of what you do in the military is already occupational medicine, a branch of preventative medicine, as far as the profiles and making sure people are fit for duty," Dr. Checketts said.

So, he researched occupational medicine residency and masters of Public Health degree, a prerequisite for occupational medicine physicians, programs. He found one at the University of Utah.

Dr. Checketts graduated residency and with his masters degree in hand, arrived at Tinker this past summer. Here, he primarily cares for the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center industrial work force, performs toxicology studies and, when he is soon promoted to flight commander, will take on administrative duties.

Even though Dr. Checketts didn't set out to be an occupational medicine physician, he said he is happy with the choices he made and would like to make military medicine his career.

"Someday, I'd like to pin on a squadron command and then be a group commander and eventually teach back at Bethesda, a military post, in occupational medicine residency," he said. "I enjoy the military. I like the atmosphere of working with the military. I get to be in the clinic, go to work sites and do toxicology. I like the variation."