Training military doctors from enlisted ranks, program gives soldiers a boost in science

Listen to Dr. Art Kellerman on Federal Drive with Tom Temin

wfedstaff | April 17, 2015 11:37 pm

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

Enlisted members of the military have a new, easier route to medical school.

A new program through the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine will give men and women in the enlisted ranks of the military two years of undergraduate-level science coursework meant to prepare them for the rigorous Medical College Admission Test (MCATs).

Dr. Art Kellermann, dean of the Hébert School of Medicine, explained the Enlisted-to-Medical Degree Preparatory Program on Federal Drive with Tom Temin .

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“It’s a partnership between the Hébert School of Medicine here at the Uniformed Services University and the armed services that will allow highly motivated, academically promising enlisted service members who dreamed of being a doctor but never saw the opportunity as realistic to not only get the necessary preparatory coursework — particularly the science prerequisites — but be able to do that while staying on active duty,” Kellerman said.

Incoming classes at the university have been comprised mostly of officers. However, Kellerman said he’s seen exceptional work come from enlisted students, which inspired the creation on this program.

“We have always had some enlisted service members who got a college degree on the job or found their way here, and they were stellar students. And so we thought, and the services agreed, that we should be able to make that pipeline a little bigger and a little easier for very promising enlisted service members,” Kellerman said. “And that’s what this program is all about. We’ve always had some star students who were former enlisted. We hope that with this program, not only will we have more going forward, but other American medical schools will have a shot recruiting these students as well.”

The preparatory program, he explained, is meant for service members who have already acquired a four-year degree, but are lacking in the rigorous science background needed to enter medical school.

“All of the applicants have a college degree. Many of them got it through night school or correspondence or through an earlier point in their career, but don’t have the science background to compete effectively in the very high bar that modern American medical schools set. They’re certainly smart enough, and that’s what this program is all about,” Kellerman said.

The program’s first class consists of five Air Force and five Army enlisted service members, who will be taking classes through George Mason University. Kellerman expects Navy and Marine Corps students to take part in future classes.

“This first group of students have come from a wide variety of backgrounds — air traffic controllers, contract professionals, special operations infantry soldiers. Their GPA for their first semester at George Mason is 3.9 out of 4.0. They blew away a national exam in chemistry, so they definitely have the smarts, and I think that’s true of large numbers of our men and women in uniform serving in enlisted ranks.”

At the end of that of the program, Kellerman expects students to score well on the MCATs, and either enroll at USU or the medical school of their choice, setting them on the path to become military doctors.

“When they come out of medical school, the services are going to get incredibly motivated, career committed doctors who not only understand the military, but understand the lives and needs of its enlisted service members. That’s a win for the services, it’s a win for American medical schools and, most importantly, it’s a win for the young men and women who can realize a dream they didn’t think was in reach,” Kellerman said.

Kellerman said students in the program can look to Army Lt. Col. Robert Mabry as inspiration. Mabry left high school with a C-minus grade point average before enlisting in the military. He later became a Special Forces medic and won a silver star in Mogadishu, Somalia.

“He came to Uniformed Services University, graduated near the top of his class as class president, went on to become one of the most outstanding emergency docs in the military health system and helped create the combat casualty doctrine today that saved many men and women’s lives in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Kellerman said. “He started as a C student in high school, but he turned out to be a stand-up star. There are lots of stars like that in the enlisted ranks of America’s military today.”

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