Nick Frederico: Pilot, Guardsman and future doctor

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tamara R. Dabney
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

Aviation and medicine are 1st Lt. Nick Federico’s passions, so maybe it was fate that led him to cross paths with Col. Sean T. Brennan, a Neurosurgery Physician Assistant who also happens to be a member of the Connecticut Air National Guard.

Brennan met Frederico, an Embry-Riddle trained pilot, while Frederico was a student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Given Frederico’s background in aviation, it did not take much effort for Brennan and an Air National Guard recruiter to convince him to join the Connecticut Air Guard, which is host to the only Air Force flying unit in the state. Frederico is now assigned to the 103rd Medical Group under Brennan’s command.

Frederico’s journey, from earning his pilot’s license at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to earning a medical degree from UConn, to now training to become an aerospace medicine specialist in the Guard, is a path less trodden.

Looking to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a pilot, Frederico enrolled in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2012. While there, he earned his pilot’s license and a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation. All was going well for Frederico until, one day, he broke his leg and was no longer able to fly.

“I broke my leg during flight school, and of course, you need your legs to fly, because you operate the rudder pedals that way,” said Frederico. “So I was knocked out from flying for a few months. It was probably the most pivotal thing that led me to going into medicine.”

Federico’s interest in medicine was initially sparked by the aviation program at Embry-Riddle, which requires aspiring pilots to learn about the physiological impact of flying. However, it was the high quality treatment that Frederico received from doctors for his broken leg that inspired him to pursue his interest in medicine.

“Getting shuttled around to all these doctor's offices was a totally new experience for me, and I just connected with all of the care that I received from different types of health providers,” said Frederico. “It was the thing that led me in the direction of medicine.”

As a medical student at UConn, Frederico studied five to seven days a week, for ten hours a day. While he had not completely abandoned flying, Frederico’s new dream was to become a doctor. In most instances, the fields of aviation and medicine are completely unrelated. It wasn’t until his chance encounter with Brennan that Frederico discovered a way to combine both of his passions by becoming an aerospace medicine specialist in the Air National Guard.

“I thought this [joining the Guard] was a good way to combine both interests, aviation and medicine,” said Frederico. “It also helps pay for school, which is big. I just have a lot more opportunities in the Guard in both fields.”

UConn applied Frederico’s aerospace medicine training to his degree plan, which enabled him complete requirements for the Guard and his medical degree at the same time.

“The Air National Guard, my medical unit, and my school have been really awesome about working together to count my training as elective credits for med school, so that I didn't have to miss any time,” said Frederico. “And it is really unique, because most medical students would never get to take a class on flight medicine. It was cool.”

Frederico graduated from medical school in May and will begin his emergency medicine residency in the summer. In the meantime, he is using his expertise to support National Guard COVID-19 response efforts at nursing homes in Connecticut.

“I'm actually on orders right now, assisting with the nursing home visits for the Department of Public Health,” said Frederico. “It was really nice that I had this free time to be able to step up and actually serve the state.”

For Frederico, serving in the Air National Guard has opened the door to a new world of opportunities. The pilot-turned-physician wants other young, ambitious men and women to know that they too can experience what the Guard has to offer.

“I would say give it a shot, because being in the Guard, I’ve been able to do things that most people don't have the opportunity to do, said Frederico. “The people that I work with are awesome and they bring in a whole breadth of experience from different places. It makes me feel grateful.”