Lifelong learning as way of life

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Sarady Tan
  • 325th Aeromedical-Dental Squadron commander
As I pondered what wisdom to share in my last few months as a squadron commander here at Tyndall, one topic kept coming up. Namely, learning should be lifelong and a way of life rather than just a chore to be undertaken intermittently or for the immediate future. 

To me, learning encompasses two broad categories: professional and personal. Both are essential to our individual development and growth as professionals and as well-rounded members of society.

In the professional realm, you can enhance your career expertise through additional training and academic pursuits. Some of these professional training opportunities may include additional specialty trade or college courses and other advanced degrees. As a physician, I am expected to keep up-to-date with new diagnostic tools and management opportunities in the continually evolving world of medicine through both self-pace learning or in group medical training and conferences. I am required to earn at least 50 hours of continued medical education every two years to keep my state medical license current. I am also expected to participate in recurrent medical specialty board certification every 7 to 10 years to retain privileges to practice in my medical specialty.

Additionally, as a military physician I have to attend military-unique medical training courses such as aeromedical evacuation, hyperbaric medicine, and combat and field medicine to name a few. I suspect that all career fields have similar mandates to stay proficient and current to practice in the profession.

Recently, military officer promotion is again closely linked to the completion of advanced degrees. Even more, professional military education is, and will always be, a show stopper for higher grades and leadership role consideration. I know of many outstanding medical and dental professionals who were passed over or discharged from the U.S. Air Force after they failed to complete their PME. 

On the enlisted side, completing a Community College of the Air Force degree will be viewed favorably in those aspiring for higher grades and positions of leadership. 

Other recognitions and career advancements are often tied to academic and other PME achievements, both directly and indirectly. So make yourselves competitive for these opportunities by ensuring that you've accomplished all professional military education for your grade as soon as you're eligible. If you're a leader or mentor, be sure to advise those under your guidance on the importance of PME and their educational opportunities early on.

Make time to pick up additional advanced degrees to enhance your current duties or in preparation for your second career following your service in the U.S. Armed Forces. With the current economy, having these additional advanced degrees or technical training may make the difference between you getting the job you want or losing out to someone else. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Surveys of March 1998, 1999 and 2000, a high school graduate can expect to earn an average of $30,400 a year versus someone with a college or professional degree who can command between $52,200 and $109,600 annually. An average lifetime earning for someone with a high school degree will be around $1.2 million while someone with a professional degree can expect to earn in excess of $4.4 million.

For personal growth, lifelong learning will influence both your future health and fitness. Personal health and fitness includes mental, emotional, physical, financial and spiritual well-being. Expanding your world through learning will enhance your daily living, as well as give you a better appreciation and outlook of the world in which you live.

Staying physically fit by learning new sports or taking up new hobbies will provide alternative outlets for you to reduce your daily stresses, in addition to keeping you physically healthy and mentally sharp. These newly-learned activities may also help you become more involved with your local community.

Achieving financial well-being may be accomplished through a variety of resources including online courses, self-pace learning tools, or classroom learning at your local family readiness flight or college campus.

No matter what the subjects, you will find lifelong learning will help keep you engaged with your on- and off-base communities. Take charge of your life and make it purposeful. Ensure lifelong learning is your way of life. As mentors and leaders, we all should encourage those under our guidance to make lifelong learning a way of life and a priority as soon as they join our ranks.