For Capt. Jennifer Berg, M.C., U.S.N., a career naval officer and APA
distinguished fellow, serving in the military is a family tradition. Her
father had been an Army medic and her mother a staff sergeant in the Women's
Marines during World War II, Berg told Psychiatric
William A. Navas Jr., assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and
reserve affairs, presents a letter of commendation to Capt. Jennifer Berg,
M.C., U.S.N., in September 2003 at the Pentagon. Berg, a psychiatrist, was
commended for meritorious service and outstanding support contributions to the"
global war on terrorism."
Berg's mother suggested that she enroll in the Army Reserve Officer
Training Corps in college, which led to a three-year scholarship. Upon
graduation in 1980, she entered medical school at the Uniformed Services
University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. In exchange for her medical
education, Berg agreed to spend the next seven years of her medical career in
the Navy, the branch of the military she switched to in medical school.
Her first foreign assignment was at a Navy base in Newfoundland, Canada."
I didn't want to go, but once I got there, I had a wonderful time as a
young physician taking care of families and children," said Berg.
During her next assignment, in Pensacola, Fla., she enrolled in aerospace
medicine training and became a flight surgeon. "I always thought it
would be exciting to fly jets and land on aircraft carriers even if I was in
the backseat," said Berg. She explained that her flight surgeon training
included solo flying in case of emergencies.
"It was a wonderful experience to work with an elite group of
motivated professional pilots and to be accepted as their flight
surgeon," said Berg. "I increasingly recognized how psychological
issues affected occupational functioning and quality of life. A large part of
my job was helping pilots decide how to cope with personal and family issues
so they wouldn't be distracted while flying."
She decided to pursue residency training in psychiatry at the Naval Medical
Center in San Diego, which she completed in 1993. The Navy paid for her
training in exchange for three more years of service.
"In addition to free schooling, I also received a salary during
medical school, my internship, and residency training," said Berg.
She moved back to Pensacola, Fla., to work as a psychiatrist at the Naval
Aerospace and Operational Medical Institute. There, she conducted research on
personality styles and teamwork skills of successful aviators. She and her
colleagues administered a personality survey to 312 successful aviators and
found that the younger, less-experienced aviators were more dogmatic and less
team oriented and open socially than older, more-experienced aviators.
"This combination of traits in junior aviators could suggest less
openness to crew input and increased risk of mishaps," the authors
stated in the abstract of their study in the June 2002 Aviation, Space,
and Environmental Medicine Journal.
Berg also became a member of the Astronaut Selection Psychological Support
Team. "We have interviewed applicants for each mission since 1994. We
evaluate their teamwork skills and ability to withstand extreme isolation and
stress," Berg said.
Although she was still enamored of aviation, Berg, the mother of two young
children, wanted a more stable career track. She returned to the Naval Medical
Center in San Diego in 1996, where she has held several positions including
director of outpatient services, psychiatry residency program director, and
most recently, clinician manager of mental health services and chair of
A challenging aspect of being a clinician manager has been responding to
official requests from other commands to send them a psychiatrist on short
notice for three to six months. "I selected the psychiatrist and then
notified the person about the deployment. If the individual became upset or
suggested another clinician be deployed, I always listened to make sure I had
made the right choice. Emotionally, it was challenging, because there was a
chance the person could be injured or killed," said Berg.
Balancing work and home became more challenging as Berg progressed in her
career, especially in the five years before she was promoted to captain in
2000. "Because promotions are competitive, I took on a lot of projects
and worked long hours, which took time away from my children," said
Berg, a divorced single parent.
During her Navy career, Berg said she was never sexually harassed or
discriminated against because of her gender. In fact, she noted, "I
found being a female flight surgeon was an asset—male pilots were more
likely to confide in a woman than another man because of the macho culture
that still existed in the Navy."
Berg was mentored mostly by men because women psychiatrists in the Navy
were rare a few decades ago. "My male mentors were supurb," she
said. Nonetheless, she continued, "it's very important that women
psychiatrists make a real effort to mentor young women during their medical
training so they'll know all their career options."
Berg would have happily continued her professional career in the Navy for
several more years if she hadn't been seriously injured in an automobile
accident in 2002. Now experiencing chronic pain daily, she will retire in
October after 20 years of service as a physician.
"I have loved every minute of my time in the Navy. I doubt I would
have advanced my career so quickly and done so many fun, interesting things as
a civilian," said Berg.
Information on medical education in the Navy is posted online at<http://navalmedicine.med.navy.mil>.▪