Professional News
Psychiatrist Soars in Rewarding Air Force Career
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 12 page 10-10

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 career choices.FIG1

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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 exercises." 

"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 Antonio.

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 1991.

"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 field..

"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 Hall.

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 article.

"A primary piece was removing the stigma associated with seeking help for a psychosocial or mental health problem in the military culture," said Hall.

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 Hall.

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. ▪

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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 exercises." 

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