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News | May 13, 2021

NASA Astronaut Offers Advice to Medical Students at WRNMMC, USU

By Bernard S. Little, WRNMMC, Office of Command Communications

Army Col. Andrew Morgan, “a Soldier, military physician and NASA astronaut,” visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) May 6, to discuss his career and offer advice to students in graduate medical education (GME) programs at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) and WRNMMC, both located on Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB).

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Morgan later attended medical school at the USU, where he earned his medical degree. In 2005, he completed his residency in emergency medicine at the Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, Washington. In 2013, he completed a fellowship in primary care sports medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

After Morgan completed his medical training, he volunteered for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and was assigned as a physician at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He worked as a medical team member in the Special Operations Command, as well as being a physician with the U.S. Army Parachute Team. As part of the Special Operations Command, he deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa.

In June 2013, NASA selected Morgan as one of the eight members of NASA Astronaut Group 21, and he began two years of astronaut basic training. 

On April 17, 2020, Morgan returned to Earth from a nine-month mission on the International Space Station (ISS), ending a 272-day spaceflight, the fourth-longest single spaceflight for an American astronaut.

During his mission, Morgan made more than 4,350 Earth orbits covering a distance of some 115-million miles, and he holds the record for the most consecutive days in space for a U.S. Army astronaut. During his nine months in space, he contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. He spent more than 45 hours conducting seven spacewalks, the highest number of spacewalks completed by an American astronaut during a single flight, according to NASA statistics. He is the first Army physician in space.

Army Col. (Dr.) Maureen Petersen, chief of GME at WRNMMC, explained Morgan visited USU and WRNMC to “share his wisdom and knowledge about professionalism and leadership…focus areas of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).”

“My presence here is somewhat a tribute to Laurel Clark,” Morgan said. He explained the auditorium at WRNMMC where he was speaking was named in honor of Clark, who did postgraduate medical education in pediatrics from 1987 to 1988 at the National Naval Medical Center, a predecessor of WRNMMC. She also became a NASA astronaut and died along with her six fellow crew members in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

“Laurel Clark was a flight surgeon much like I am, and like many of you sitting in the audience are, or will be,” said Morgan.

“I am one of you,” he added. “This is a homecoming for me to be back at Bethesda. This is a special place. I did multiple rotations [at WRNMMC] as a USU student, although it is much bigger and grander than it was at that time.”

Morgan said he envisioned being in Special Operations early on in his career. “Before I even went to medical school, I knew I wanted to be a physician for Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen on the frontline doing the most dangerous missions. I wanted to be as close to the action as I could be. I was able to serve alongside our bravest and finest overseas.

“I’ve said this many times before, and it bears repeating. I’ve flown in space now for nine months, and I’ve done a lot of space walks. Our [ISS] crew did a lot of incredible things, but the honor of my life was serving with our finest overseas in combat,” Morgan said.

Despite being inspired by astronauts who flew on space shuttles, their missions and explorations, Morgan said he was pragmatic in realizing not everyone was going to be able to [become an astronaut]. 

“I needed to follow my passion and what I really loved to do, and my first love was military service. I come from a long lineage of military service in my family. It’s in my blood,” said the West Virginia native.

He said while a cadet at West Point, he developed his interest in medicine. His father was a military dentist, who also served as an inspiration. “The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, and it inspired me to see my father combine officership, leadership and dentistry.”

Morgan said one quality and skill he’s found effective for good leadership is selflessness. He explained selflessness involves “putting others before yourself, being a good team member and a good teammate under all circumstances. By the way, that translates really well to medicine, as well as to being an officer, a leader and NASA astronaut.”

He added teambuilding “goes hand in hand” with selflessness. “We constantly find ourselves in situations in which one day, you’re in charge and the next day, you’re a follower. We do a lot of peer leadership in the astronaut corps and onboard the ISS.”

The Army colonel has stated he views his mission onboard the space station as a continuation of his nearly three decade military career. 

“I am a Soldier, a military physician, and a NASA astronaut, in that order. I'm a Soldier first, and the military trained me to be a leader of character, dedicated to taking care of people,” Morgan has stated. “Every quality that's made me a successful astronaut is a product of my military training: from my academic degrees to my operational skills. While I regularly draw on the technical skills and specialized training I learned in the military, it's my leadership experiences that I rely on the most. It’s been a real honor for me to represent the U.S. military on board the ISS during some of the most intense operations in its history,” he added.
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