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Taking Medicine to New Heights; David S. Lambert, M.D. ’92

David S. Lambert, M.D. '92
Photo courtesy of David Lambert

Doctors who care for military pilots do their best work if they’re experienced flyers themselves.

That’s why David S. Lambert, M.D. ’92 spent plenty of time in planes while training to become a Navy flight surgeon.

“Flight surgeon is an old term from World War II,” Lambert explains.“You’re actually a doctor of aerospace medicine and physiology, a general practitioner who takes care of pilots and air crew. The specialty training involves understanding the physiology of flight—whether it’s space flight, helicopter flight or pressurized cabin flight.

“The best doctor is a doctor who knows what the pilot goes through,” he says. “And the only way to know is to actually go up in an airplane and be exposed to the pressures, the altitudes, the spinning and the G-forces.” To get that exposure, Lambert flew in everything from S-3 Vikings to F-14 Tomcats to F-18 Hornets to EA-6B Prowlers to SH-60 Seahawk helicopters. The aircraft were based on the USS George Washington, Lambert’s first duty station after he completed medical school on a Navy scholarship. In return for the scholarship, which paid for all four years of medical school, Lambert reciprocated with four years of active duty service—after he was trained as a doctor and in the ways of the military.

In 1997, he graduated from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, having spent his summers training with the Navy in California and Washington State. He then went to San Diego to begin an internship in general surgery, and to flight surgeon training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.

“This is when all the exciting stuff started happening in my life,” Lambert says. After his tour aboard the George Washington, which patrolled the Middle East’s shoreline, Lambert planned to go for additional medical training. He changed his plans after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“You get that sense of patriotism,” Lambert says. “I felt that if something was going to happen I wanted to be part of it and didn’t want to be in training. So I affiliated myself with the Marines. I went from being a flight surgeon to being a ground physician taking care of troops on the ground.”

He completed two deployments with the Marines in Iraq, and then decided it was time for his specialty training. “I decided to apply for civilian jobs and ended up getting out of the active duty military and going into the reserves,” says Lambert, now a lieutenant commander.

In 2007 he completed his specialty training in emergency medicine at Cooper Hospital in Camden, N.J. That was followed by a hyperbaric medicine fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he’s now an attending physician in both the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Hyperbaric and Undersea Medicine Clinic.

Hyperbarics may be best known for treating the bends, a painful condition suffered by divers who surface too quickly. But it’s also used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as chronic wounds and radiation injuries.

“In the emergency room I see patients and then they’re discharged,” Lambert says. On the other hand, he adds, “In hyperbarics I see patients chronically. I see them every day, I see them get better, and I get to work with all the different doctors. It fits my personality because I’m like a jack of all trades. I like to do a little bit of everything.”

– Bob Shade

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