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Vital Signs

Former combat pilot is still in the hunt for excitement and challenge

I'm kind of into the danger and excitement sorts of fields," says Dr. Elizabeth Weber, chief resident in orthopaedics at DHMC. One could also add "male-dominated" and "fiercely competitive" to her list of adjectives. Before medical school, Weber spent six years in the Air Force, three of them as a combat pilot. And as of June, she'll be only the third woman to complete DHMC's orthopaedics residency.

Exciting: "You may have some ideas about what you want to do, both in medicine and in the military, when you start," Weber explains, "but if you tend to be a competitive person—which I am—then you very quickly figure out what's the most prestigious and exciting thing to do." Weber was the only woman in her pilot training class of 60 and one of only about 20 who graduated. While in the Air Force, she flew all over the world, transporting generals and dignitaries on Lear jets and then, during the Gulf War, flying combat missions on KC-135s, which are used to

Weber, with a T-38 during her pilot training in the 1980s.

refuel other planes in flight.

"I think the biggest problem with being a woman in the Air Force . . . was [when]

we were based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia," during the Gulf War, says Weber. As commander of a combat plane, she was responsible for her craft and crew, but she couldn't perform many of her duties because of Saudi attitudes toward women. "They wouldn't give me gas because women can't talk to men there," Weber recalls. "It's one thing not to respect a gender because that's the way you were brought up, but not to respect the rank of a military officer . . . it was very bothersome."

She hasn't encountered any such obstacles at DHMC. "My peers in this program are absolutely amazing," she says. "They are well-spoken, articulate, smart, fun, funny . . . just a great group of guys. I haven't felt any animosity about my gender." She does admit that at times "it's a little socially challenging." But challenge is clearly what Weber thrives on. Come July, she'll be starting a new challenge—a pediatric orthopaedics fellowship in Australia.

Jennifer Durgin

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