As a psychiatrist returning to the workforce full time in the mid-1980s
after having children, Col. Molly Hall, M.C., U.S.A.F., was attracted to the
Air Force because it offered her rapid career advancement and an array of
Col. Molly Hall, M.C., U.S.A.F.: "One of the most thrilling
experiences of my life was sitting in the cockpit of the T-37 jet trainer and
being allowed to do rolls, loops, and other acrobatic
"There was a lot of upward mobility for qualified women physicians in
the education, clinical, and administrative/management career tracks,"
Hall told Psychiatric News.
She became a full-time, active-duty psychiatrist in the Air Force Medical
Corps in 1987, and she was assigned to the medical center at Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base (AFB) in Ohio.
A year later, Hall became the director of what at that time was the only
integrated Air Force/civilian psychiatric residency program in the United
States. As part of the program, developed in the early 1970s, residents from
the psychiatry department at Wright State University School of Medicine train
with psychiatry residents from Wright-Patterson AFB through an agreement to
share resources, Hall said.
In 1998 at Wilford Hall, an Air Force Hospital in San Antonio, Tex., Hall
initiated the second Air Force integrated residency training program in
conjunction with the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San
While she was training director at Wright-Patterson, Hall became chief of
the outpatient mental health section in 1988 and a year later was promoted to
chief of the psychiatry service.
She also held faculty positions at the Wright State University department
of psychiatry, which "eased my transition from being a civilian to being
in the Air Force," Hall said. She received numerous teaching awards,
including the first annual APA Excellence in Medical Education award in
"Several factors contributed to my rapid career advancement. There
were frequent job openings because most psychiatrists left the Air Force after
serving a limited time in exchange for receiving free medical tuition through
the Health Professions Scholarship Program," explained Hall. "Many
psychiatrists left the Air Force to pursue civilian academic careers. The
military has a limited academic career track unless you join the faculty of
the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences [USUHS], which is
where I have been since 2000."
Hall is assistant chair of the department of psychiatry and an associate
professor of psychiatry at USUHS.
Hall's long-term ambition was to be the first woman psychiatrist to achieve
the rank of one-star general. By 1995, Hall was a lieutenant colonel with two
meritorious service awards and wanted to position herself on the
administrative/management track, which can involve policy development or
running a hospital.
Hall moved her four children to Andrews AFB in Maryland in 1995 to become
the psychiatric field consultant to the surgeon general of the Air Force. From
1998 to 2000 she was the supervisor of the six in-house medical consultants at
Washington, D.C.'s Bolling AFB, as well as more than 100 consultants in the
"We wrote guidelines for the medical corps in the field and developed
the first population-based requirements for assigning health care specialists
to beneficiaries," Hall said.
She also worked on mental health issues related to sexual assault, stigma,
and suicide prevention. "A highlight was being a member of the
suicide-prevention task force that developed and implemented an Air
Force—wide program in 1996 that successfully reduced the rates of
suicide," she said.
The program was developed following a cluster of suicides in the military
including that of Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Borda, according to
A long-term study of the suicide-prevention program was published in the
December 13, 2003, British Medical Journal. Over a 12-year period,
the comprehensive program decreased the risk of suicide by 33 percent in a
sample of approximately 5 million Air Force personnel, according to the
"A primary piece was removing the stigma associated with seeking help
for a psychosocial or mental health problem in the military culture,"
Hall pursued flight training for physicians in the Air Force in 1990."
One of the most thrilling experiences of my life was sitting in the
cockpit of the T-37 jet trainer and being allowed to do rolls, loops, and
other acrobatic exercises. We learned about the physiology of flight and
underwent simulation training exercises, parachuted, and spent a week in
survival training," Hall said.
Besides being exciting, flight training resulted in the privilege of
wearing the coveted wings on her uniform. "The wings are a status symbol
in Air Force culture and can enhance careers," she explained.
She continues to enjoy being a psychiatric consultant to the Astronaut
Selection Board at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. She has
evaluated astronaut candidates every two years since graduating from the
Aerospace Primary Course at Brooks AFB in 1990.
"Our evaluations shifted in the 1990s from looking for psychiatric
pathology to looking for resiliency traits such as the ability to tolerate
long periods of boredom in close quarters and staying task-focused despite
distressing news from home," Hall said.
She continued, "It was an honor and highly stimulating to interview
such highly accomplished, bright men and women."
"I have had some very interesting career opportunities in the Air
Force including being a consultant on sexual assault cases while I was a
psychiatric field consultant to the [Air Force] surgeon general," said
As a result of investigations into sexual assault incidents at the U.S. Air
Force Academy, "we implemented a waiver for the cadet victims so they
would not be required to disclose detailed information about the assault to
the Office of Special Investigation, which conducted the criminal
investigations into the charges against Air Force officers.
"This enabled victims to seek help rather than undergo an
investigatory process that was often retraumatizing and out of control. We saw
that the waiver worked because the number of reports of sexual assault victims
seeking counseling increased," said Hall.
In her nearly 19 years in the Air Force, Hall said she has not encountered
gender harassment or discrimination, which she attributes to the good
leadership she has encountered and protections in place and due-process
procedures for women and minorities.
"The Air Force promotion process is transparent, performance-based,
and fair. I know that the board members have to sign a written statement
confirming that they have considered applicants from under-represented
groups," Hall said.
Having become a full colonel in 1998, she began focusing on the next
administrative position that could lead to promotion to a one-star general.
But her plans changed for personal reasons. "I was diagnosed with and
successfully treated for breast cancer in 2000 and also realized that my four
children couldn't handle another move," Hall said.
She decided to remain at USUHS, where, in addition to teaching, writing,
and mentoring students, she directs the Bioterrorism Education Project for the
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress.
"I plan to continue my career in the Air Force. I have loved every
minute of it," Hall said. ▪