From her white coat to her sand-colored coveralls, Dr. Grace Gibbs takes the expression “wears many hats,” to the next level. In fact, she takes it high above the clouds in her role as a LTC Chief Flight Surgeon in the National Guard. Sitting in a black and cream sweater dress, surrounded by photos of newborn babies, her family — both her immediate and her military family, Gibbs easily slips between conversations on deployment, medical procedures and motherhood. “I don’t know any different,” she said of her multiple roles. Gibbs, 46, who also serves as an assistant clinical professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, said a busy schedule is just part of who she is. Growing up on the west side of the state, coming from humble beginnings, Gibbs had a dream to help others. “I knew I always wanted to be a doctor,” she said. Being the first in her family to attend college, Gibbs was unsure of how she would afford to go to school until an Air Force recruiter spoke at her high school. “I believe things happen for a reason,” she said. Gibbs knew that military service was the key she had been looking for and signed up at the age of 17, leaving for basic training just four days after high school graduation. After basic training in Texas, Gibbs was stationed in Germany. It was there, when she was assigned to sponsor a new recruit — Todd — that her fate was sealed. “I knew right away,” she said of her feelings for Todd, adding with a laugh that it took some convincing to get her husband on board. Although the two had many things in common, the love of the military was not one of them. After they married in Demark, the couple returned to the states where Todd enrolled in college and Gibbs continued to serve. “I loved the military,” she said. “That whole sense of family.” In 1992, however, after having her sons Kirk, who is now 24, and Justin who is now 22, Gibbs was ready to attend school full time to fulfill her dream of being a doctor. And so, she ended her time in active duty. “It was hard to say goodbye,” she said. To ease the hardship, Gibbs joined the National Guard. During her time with the National Guard, she successfully finished her undergrad degree at Buena Vista University and graduated medical school from Des Moines University. Gibbs’ residency program brought the family to the Lansing area. Her first rotation was in obstetrics, giving Gibbs yet another sign that she had found the right place. Her mentoring doctor wasn’t shy to let her assist in C-sections, which Gibbs found fascinating. Still, something else convinced her she’d found the right calling. She may have been the student, but female patients trusted her and wanted her opinion. “Women really wanted to see women doctors,” she said. Today, along with delivering babies (currently her record is eight babies in one day), Gibbs gets to perform plenty of surgeries, including her favorite procedure — a robotic hysterectomy. “You’re giving (patients) their life back,” she said. While her career as an OBGYN has taken off, Gibbs’ loyalty to the military has never waned. “It’s part of who I am,” she said. “It’s part of what makes me a good doctor.” While she is an OBGYN in her day-to-day life, in her National Guard life as a flight surgeon, she also treats men and a does a wide variety of procedures — from physicals to in-the-field treatment. Gibbs has been part of three different wars. Thanks to the military she has seen a lot of the world including Quam, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Japan, Alaska, Hawaii and more. This past summer Gibbs was deployed to the Middle East for eight weeks. Since her normal responsibility to the National Guard is one weekend a month and two weeks a year, the time was daunting to Gibbs, especially when she learned she would be deployed with a different air crew. “I was scared,” she said. “(But) I make friends pretty easily.” The only other drawbacks were the 115 degree heat and, of course, the time away from her sons and husband of 26 years. “He knows it’s important to me,” she said of Todd’s support. Along with her dedication to serving her country, Gibbs said there are other aspects that make her a popular choice among patients. “My background (and) being very humble,” she said. “I don’t do this for money (and) I share my own stories with my patients … I don’t talk in big medical terms.” Her success in the military comes from her respect of enlisted personnel. “You can’t do your job without them,” she said of enlisted military members. Outside of her many roles, Gibbs can be found golfing — “I’m pretty good,” she said — and scrapbooking. Her advice to women wanting to stay healthy and happy in 2013 is avoid fad diets — instead stick to portion control and exercise. And don’t forget those vitamins. Gibbs recommends especially calcium and vitamin D. More importantly, of course, women have to stick to doing what they love and what they believe in, all while finding balance. “I never looked at my time in the military as an extra duty or something I ‘had to do.’ I view it as an honor to serve my country. It is at the base of who I am,” said Gibbs. “From there, I became a wife, then mother, followed by college student, medical student, resident and finally OBGYN physician.” “How did I balance it all?” added Gibbs, “with the support of my family. It certainly wasn’t always easy, but we always made it work somehow.”
Emily Caswell is the Managing Editor of CAWLM. She has a passion for fun, family, friends, shopping sprees, cold drinks and Lansing.