If a snapshot existed of David Miller, MD as a seventh-grader playing outside on a typical day, it would be prophetic of the path his life would take. "I was one of those nerdy kids who built model airplanes all the time; my room was filled with them," Miller says. "And I had balsa-wood models that I'd fly in the parking lot of the hospital being built across the street from our house."
With a chance to explore the insides of a hospital under construction, and a dad who often took him to a nearby airport to watch planes land and take off, it wasn't surprising that Miller's career aspirations faced an early fork in the road: should he be a pilot, or a doctor?
Nowadays, he's fortunate enough to do both: he practices with Birmingham Gastroenterology Associates, and in his spare time he can be found piloting his Piper Archer III around the country for both business and pleasure.
Miller attended medical school at UAB, but didn't decide on a specialty until he was about halfway through a residency in Boston. "I grew up with stomach issues myself--acid reflux, abdominal pain, kind of a weak stomach in general--so I experienced that aspect directly," he says. "And what I liked about the residency was face-to-face contact with patients, figuring out their problems through endoscopy, and solving them. And then it was satisfying to see them feeling better when they came back for follow-up visits."
Miller's chance to fly a plane came much later in life. "For years I played golf, like a good doctor should, but I gradually realized that I actually didn't care for the game. So that opened up a way for me to have a hobby that I really enjoyed, and aviation was a natural choice."
The initial experience of flying lessons wasn't quite what he expected, he says. "They took a little longer than I planned. I didn't have the same level of bravado that I'd had at, say, age 21. So I was probably overly cautious. I didn't want to race through it; I wanted to take my time.
"So it took me a good while to really cotton to it, to feel comfortable with what I was doing."
One of his most frequent routes is flying from Birmingham for weekends in Panama City. But he's also made some longer flights - one to Maine, where his wife's parents live, and another to Wisconsin for a prestigious Oshkosh air show.
And with children in college out of state - South Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee - his visits to them are a virtual fly-over of Southeastern Conference territory.
"I don't have a high-powered plane. Mine's really slow," Miller says. "But I like passing over the rush-hour on I-65 and seeing it from up above. Actually, I enjoy the whole activity of flying - planning the flight, getting the plane ready, just the whole process.
"Going to Maine was a challenge. Passing over Boston, New York, and DC was complicated, with all the various air traffic controllers giving complicated routes. So it was very satisfying to complete all of that."
Miller has never done any serious aerial photography, but says he occasionally takes a Facebook picture with his i-Phone when he sees a particularly nice sunset or a lake below.
"Back at home, I use flying for stress relief when I've had an especially busy week. One of my favorite things to do is go up for a flight around 5:30 or 6 p.m. and just fly in circles for an hour.
"It's like the whole week melts away below me. I like to say I feel I'm one mile closer to God."