BRIDGEPORT, Pa. — Former United States Naval Academy water polo player Dr./Capt. Jeffrey Tomlin went from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, to the U.S.S. Annapolis and finally to his true calling as he stands among the leaders in the field of neurosurgery.
A staff neurosurgeon and neurosurgery specialty advisor for the Navy surgeon general at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), Tomlin’s path from Scott Natatorium to the operating room followed a unique course that took him from the submarine service to San Diego, Calif., and his current MOS (military occupation specialty).
Majoring in aerospace engineering at the United States Naval Academy after a tenure at Corona del Mar High School, Tomlin was commissioned as a naval officer in 1989 and assigned to the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Annapolis (SSN 760), as a “plank owner,” or part of the ship’s commissioning crew. He served aboard Annapolis for six years before deciding to switch careers and try his hand at neurosurgery.
“I thought medicine would be the best mixture of science and care, and it gave me the opportunity to be in contact with people, helping people get better,” said Tomlin. “My initial obligation from the Naval Academy sent me to the submarine force, but I knew I was coming back to medicine.”
“Jeff and I were teammates at the Academy for four years and he was a big part of Navy’s first three Eastern Championships,” noted Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Hall of Fame member and current Navy assistant coach Tom Popp.
“We were both aerospace engineering majors at the academy. I would stay up late at night studying and Jeff would take it all in during class. He would help explain things to me and I remember teasing him that he was as smart as a brain surgeon.” .
After his tenure aboard Annapolis, Tomlin attended medical school at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md. (graduating in 1999) where he met a neurosurgeon who invited him to Naval Medical Center San Diego to give him some exposure to patient care and surgery.
He completed his first year of residency training at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, after which he went to an out-service civilian hospital for neurosurgery residency at University of Rochester, New York.
Tomlin performs mostly spinal surgeries, using any instrumentation and decompression of the spine in either the cervical, thoracic or lumbar regions.
He also is involved in brain tumor surgeries and treats a high number of trauma patients with skull reconstruction. Some reconstruction cases are directly related to injury stemming from battlefield injuries.
“We use a combination of titanium, specialized plastics and small screws and plates to re-approximate the normal bony contour of the skull,” he said. “In addition, we re-establish contour when there’s been large decompression-type surgeries for significant trauma by using large plates that would encompass the entire skull.”
After Tomlin completed residency, he was initially stationed in what was then known as National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was the department head of neurosurgery from 2008 to 2010. While stationed there, he deployed as a solo neurosurgeon to Landstuhl, Germany, for six months.
In 2010, Tomlin received orders to NMCSD, where he serves as the department head of Neurosurgery.
Since, he was deployed as an Individual Augmentee to Afghanistan for nine months to care for injured civilians and service members at the NATO-owned hospital at Kandahar Air Field.
A fellow in both the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons and a member of the Neurosurgical Society of America, he is a physician member of the National Ski Patrol, and continues to teach on neurotrauma topics in the remote alpine environment for ski patrol and alpine mountain guides. He is currently Board Chair for the Vail Veterans Program, leading clinics for combat injured service members and served as a lead instructor for their novel program, the Vail Veterans Path to Success.