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From postcard to military career: Dr. Albrecht seeing, treating the world

Dr. (Maj.) Angela Albrecht, 72nd Medical Operations Support Medicine Clinic director, sees a patient in Tinker’s family medicine clinic. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Dr. (Maj.) Angela Albrecht, 72nd Medical Operations Support Medicine Clinic director, sees a patient in Tinker’s family medicine clinic. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

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

Twelve years ago, Angela Albrecht was at a crossroads. Dissatisfied with her veterinary career, she debated a change. She pondered going back to school for a master's degree when she received a postcard in the mail. It was a momentous postcard; one that altered everything.

Sent by an Air Force recruiter, the postcard offered her a military career. Even though she had never considered such a career before, she looked into it. The results proved astonishing, opening her eyes to an array of possibilities, which still continue today.

"I had never left Minnesota. I was 28 years old and I just thought it would be something to try; a new avenue to explore," said Dr. (Maj.) Albrecht, 72nd Medical Operations Support Medicine Clinic director, who arrived at Tinker two years ago. "So, I joined the Air Force and left the state of Minnesota and it's been the best decision I've ever made. I haven't looked back since."

Joining the Air Force was a win-win situation for Dr. Albrecht. At the time, she had considered pursuing a master's degree in Public Health, something many veterinarians do, and was applying to schools. She said the Air Force recruiter encouraged her to get the degree and use it in the military as a public health officer.

And she did. For three years, she worked in safety, preventative and deployment medicine. She worked closely with the flight medicine doctors and liked what they did. She liked it so much, it inspired another change.

"I saw how they took care of the active-duty patients and their families and I wanted to do that - help care for the families of the Air Force," Dr. Albrecht said.

Dr. Albrecht applied for medical school and attended the Uniform Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. A fan of the various medical specialties, except surgery, she opted for family medicine; that way she could dabble in a little bit of everything.

"Family medicine is all about your patients really trusting you," Dr. Albrecht said. "You're the family doctor; you know any and everything about the entire family. They trust you enough to share those really personal issues with you."

Just before her 2005 graduation, Dr. Albrecht, then a fourth-year medical student at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., saw the power of her skills at work when she was confronted with a homesick Airman.

The Airman, new to the Air Force, was far from home and complained of stomach pains, nausea and vomiting.

"The more I talked with her and spent time with her, I realized it was more the anxiety that caused the issues and she, unfortunately, was using alcohol to cope with that," the doctor said. "She trusted me enough to admit she had an alcohol problem and that was her way of coping with her new stressors. It was very rewarding to develop that relationship with her."

Dr. Albrecht helped the young Airman and continues to help others. At Tinker, she is responsible for an array of patients and sees approximately one every 20 minutes Monday through Friday.

"As the medical director of the Family Medicine Flight, she is a great mentor, leader and medical provider," said Maj. Jane Free, 72nd MDOS Family Medicine Flight commander. "Every day she comes to work with a great 'get it done' attitude. She is an inspiration to us all."

While Dr. Albrecht said she enjoys her job, she's working toward a new goal - becoming flight medical doctor.

Because there are specific aviation medical requirements, Dr. Albrecht is working on the requisites when her schedule allows. She said she's completed two weeks of a six-week aerospace medicine course. She anticipates she'll transition to flight medicine in the fall of 2011.

Despite all that Dr. Albrecht has accomplished, even she can't believe the distance and direction she's traveled as a result of her Air Force career.

"If you had told me I'd be doing this just five years ago, I'd never have expected it," she said. "Even 12 years ago when I first joined the Air Force, I had a total different career path in mind."

Yet, here she is, married with two children, taking it all in, one patient at a time.