I Left the Military to Stay in Guam. Here’s Why.

I started my path with a desire to travel. I began medicine with a Naval scholarship to pay for medical school. This would guarantee opportunities for living and practicing in different regions of the world.

I started off in San Diego, California and proceeded to be stationed throughout the United States. Eventually an opportunity came up to be stationed in Guam. I enjoy the outdoors, a more rural environment, and warm weather.

A Warm Welcome

As a Family Medicine physician, I found myself practicing full scope medicine in the military hospital in Guam. At the time, my wife and toddler daughter were settling into the community, and were warmly welcomed. We found a great school, with plenty of groups and activities to be a part of. As my time to relocate came, I decided to leave the military so I could stay in Guam.

Why Stay in Guam?

So why stay in Guam? As we were looking at where move next, we couldn’t find a place that met most of our values. We’re an outdoorsy family, and Guam has some of the best hiking and scuba diving we’ve experienced.

I’ve also spent far too much of my life commuting in traffic, but everything in Guam is 15 minutes away. From my house I can get to a waterfall within 15 minutes, or be in the water on a shore scuba dive.

There’s an international airport (also 15 minutes away) that has 3 hour flights to the Philippines, Tokyo or some off the beaten path locations (like Yap, or Kosrae). I’m also not a fan of cold weather anymore, and the coldest it gets here is 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I’ve also spent far too much of my life commuting in traffic, but everything in Guam is 15 minutes away. From my house I can get to a waterfall within 15 minutes, or be in the water on a shore scuba dive.”

Old School Kind of Place

As I left active duty, I found myself pursuing many opportunities. I was working at the public hospital as a hospitalist. At the same time, I had an outpatient clinic I was working at on the side. I eventually found my place in the outpatient-based VA clinic. Medicine in Guam is different because it’s slower and without all specialities.

Do you want to see rheumatology? There’s no rheumatologist on Guam, and the patients cannot afford to go to Hawaii. Do you need a surgical subspecialty? Also not available, but maybe one of the surgeons will try. Do you need an imaging study? The results might not come back this week. There are also no pediatric subspecialties.

Guam is an old school kind of place; it’s about who you know. It’s difficult to find jobs listed online, but they are readily available if you know who to contact. Guam is a small place, and it’s possible to know most of the medical community. With that said it’s a welcoming and safe place to practice medicine however you want. Colleagues and patients are just happy to have someone who’s willing to help.

Medical Care In Guam

Guam is the biggest island in Micronesia located about a three hour flight south of Japan, a three hour flight east of the Philippines and an eight hours flight west of Hawaii. The island itself has about 150,000 people and would be considered medically underserved. This also means that several of the local hospitals like the VA, Guam Memorial Hospital Authority, Guam Public health and the military hospital qualify for Public Student Loan Forgiveness.

There are many medical specialties, but often just one or two practicing physicians of each. There are no surgical subspecialties or pediatric specialties on the island. Due to where we are located, and financial costs, all patients are treated here with rare emergent or urgent medical evacuations. This often requires people to be very comfortable with practicing outside of norms on the mainland. With that said, due to tort reforms, essentially medical malpractice is not an issue. The people of Guam are often very grateful for any services that are provided.

Guam is a US territory, which means anyone who can practice in the US can practice here after getting a Guam medical license. Being that it has a large military presence, it has a very US feel to the region with many of the amenities. The island is beautiful with amazing hiking, scuba diving and easy access to places such as Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

It’s Not For Everyone

Guam is not for everyone. People who struggle here often have difficulties leaving home amenities behind. Online shopping does not always make it to Guam, there are no Starbucks, and there are no Ubers here.

The time zone differences with contacting loved ones is tough for many. Time zones get tricky, especially since Guam is in the future. Hawaii is 4 hours ahead and one day behind. California is usually 2 hours further ahead. Both Hawaii and Guam do not participate in daylight savings time. For example, noon on March 2 in Guam, is 1600 on March 1 in Hawaii and usually 1800 on March 1 in California.

Things also move on island time, there isn’t a sense of hurry. But if you want to help underserved people, while having many US amenities, and access to East Asia, then Guam is a great place to be.

Now, we want to hear from you!

  1. What’s your biggest insight or “aha” from this post?
  2. What resonated with you the most?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Dr. Kevin McDermott is originally from San Diego, California and graduated medical school from ATSU in Arizona in 2015. He completed a residency in family medicine at Camp Lejeune while active duty in the Navy. He currently resides in Guam with his family while working at the VA.



1 Comment

  1. Jennifer C Yolles

    My reaction was that Guam sounds ALMOST as good as living/working in the Northern Mariana Islands—Guam’s neighbor to the north. Also a US territory, also a beautiful tropical island but the main island is Saipan is much lower key and quieter than Guam.


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