Lieutenant Colonel Scott Corey, Squadron Commander of the United States Air Force’s
42nd Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, is “from” nowhere. A lifelong military
guy who considers everywhere and nowhere his home, Lt. Col. Corey joined the Air Force
in 1990, and while on active duty obtained his undergraduate degree in health care
management and master’s degree in medical laboratory science—the latter from UND.
After 30 years in uniform, and nearly a decade since his graduate degree, the SMHS
alum sat down to chat with North Dakota Medicine via telephone from his base in Montgomery, Ala., to discuss military life, lab science
in the Air Force, and moving on—perhaps to academia.
Thanks for your time, Lt. Col. Corey. So you’re part of a team doing medical laboratory science for the Air Force. Are the military medical labs different from those in the civilian world?
In general, no. Basically, we, as laboratorians, are similar to the civilian sector in the sense that we operate clinical laboratories just like those out in general communities like Grand Forks, N.D., only for the Department of Defense. We adhere to the same regulatory standards, same lab practices that any other civilian institution adheres to. Some unique challenges we face include a great deal of staff turnover, due to our military personnel. We’re mobile and agile, meaning replacing staff to maintain continuity is always a challenge. We’re key to the medical team in that regard, providing important diagnostic data to aid clinicians in making a diagnosis for our beneficiaries.
The population you serve must be a bit different, though?
Most of the population we serve is young, healthy individuals. They include active duty and retired personnel, along with their dependents, spouses, and children. Other special sub-populations include our pilots and flying crew, whether bomber or fighter pilots, who get treated a bit differently because they’re in flying status. There are unique physiological demands put on them that are a bit different [from non-pilots], requiring special care. They’re being monitored for conditions while flying and physicians will turn to the clinical laboratory to help solve any medical issues that arise.
Do you have medical labs on airplanes or ships at sea?
We don’t have any Air Force labs on airplanes or ships but we do have portable diagnostic instruments on cargo planes that are conducting aeromedical evacuation of personnel. We have approximately 70 Air Force military treatment facilities located all over the globe. As an example, there’s a clinic located at Grand Forks Air Force Base with a small laboratory nested inside with Air Force personnel overseeing lab operations.
So, are you still doing lab-based work in your role as Squadron Commander?
I’ve stepped out of the clinical world a little bit. I still have the foundation and maintain my MLS certification [to practice]. Squadron Command has been a unique and rewarding career-broadening experience. I oversee seven different departments comprising roughly 130 personnel. It’s my job to ensure our personnel are organized, trained, and equipped so they can do their day-to-day job.
Was this the sort of role you saw yourself in a decade ago?
I graduated from UND in May 2011 and was tracking toward this position. The Air Force positioned me on a leadership track and squadron command is a part of that track. Throughout my military career, I always wanted to be a Squadron Commander. In this capacity, I feel the privilege to serve and influence personnel is a tremendous responsibility that I don’t take lightly. The best part of my day is watching individuals and teams under my command succeed, and see our staff deliver outstanding medical care to our active-duty military population and their dependents, and to the retirees that we serve. My background is I joined the Air Force as an enlisted member in 1990 and advanced through the enlisted ranks for eleven years before completing my undergraduate degree in 2001. I then applied for a direct commission and was accepted as a Second Lieutenant in the USAF as a Biomedical Laboratory Officer. My first officer assignment was to Bolling Air Force Base, in Washington, D.C., in 2001. I have been deployed twice to the Middle East, conducting mostly what we call “blood operations” [providing blood for soldiers in combat]. It was while serving in Alaska from 2004-2008 that I heard about the master of clinical laboratory science program at UND and was excited to enroll.
Did you have any affiliation with the Grand Forks or Minot Air Force Bases when you were out here?
No. I heard about UND’s program via word of mouth through another active-duty airman who had graduated from UND’s then-CLS program.
At which time you applied to UND’s graduate program in MLS.
Correct, I enrolled in the graduate MLS distance learning/ online program at UND. The distance program was obviously beneficial for me, being a couple thousand miles away from the main campus and being stationed in Alaska. All in all it took me a few years to complete the master’s program. Since commissioning in 2001, I’ve worked in small- to medium-sized labs in various laboratory management roles, overseeing core lab or point-of-care testing, and so on. I’m very appreciative and happy I chose UND’s program. It provided me the flexibility to complete the program on my own time and it fit my schedule in a way that didn’t burden my family.
Because Air Force living can be “unsettling” so to speak.
Yes. I was born at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and raised in the Air Force. My dad spent a little over 20 years in the USAF and retired in 1987. As a military kid, it’s hard to call one place home. We moved a lot when I was younger, although I spent the better part of my young adult life growing up in San Antonio, Texas. After high school graduation in 1987, I believed college wasn’t right for me yet—I needed a little more time to develop and mature. I felt like the military gave me that buffer of time to grow up and serve my country, so I joined what I knew best—the Air Force. Additionally, my parents weren’t in a position to financially support me through college after graduation and I didn’t want to put the [financial] burden on them, so I turned to the military. The Air Force has outstanding tuition assistance benefits, so I utilized that resource tremendously throughout both my undergraduate and graduate programs of study.
Do you see yourself doing anything different in five years?
It’s hard to believe time has gone by so quick and it seems like yesterday I headed out for basic military training. I began my military career in 1990, so next year puts me at 30 years of total service in the Air Force. My time in the Air Force has been extremely rewarding and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but my family and I are looking forward to the next chapter. I’m in the process of transitioning out of the military and returning to either the clinical laboratory locally here in Montgomery, or perhaps trying my hand at an MLS faculty position.