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OU-COM sees boom in military recruits

More than 10 percent of first-year medical students have military medicine scholarships this year

From left: Jeanne Hunter, OMS I (Air Force); Steve Davis, Ph.D. (Air Force Retired); Sam Sigoloff, OMS I (Army); Ryan Burkhart, OMS I (Army); Jayme Morrison, OMS I (Army); Dominique Crosby, OMS I (Army); Erika Wager, OMS I (Army), Jenna Zerkle, OMS I (Army); Candace Moore, OMS I (Army); Cameron Brown, OMS II (Army); Kenneth Willaert, OMS I (Navy); Andrew Little, OMS I (Army Guard); and Scott Hahn OMS I (Army). Not shown: Justin Gusching, OMS I (Army Guard); Emily Heckendorn, OMS I (Army); and Starla Lyles, OMS II (Navy).


By Colleen Kiphart

March 5, 2009 

This is a record-breaking year at OU-COM for future military doctors. Thirteen members—more than ten percent—of the OU-COM class of 2012 have committed to practicing medicine for the United States armed forces after they complete medical school. Considering that recent years have seen just two or three annual military medicine recruits, this represents a massive leap.

But why now? Former military man Stephen Davis, Ph.D., director of faculty development, offers a few insights. “This year we are offering a $20,000 signing bonus. It definitely gets their attention and is a big help to students.” Davis, a retired major, served 10 years in the Navy and 14 in the Air Force.  

That, Davis says, sweetened an already benefit-rich deal. “Students who have committed to four years of service get free medical school tuition, plus free books and equipment—and a $2,000 monthly stipend.”

Considering the average medical school debt of $137,517, as reported by the American Medical Association, those scholarships look very tempting. Davis adds that the program also benefits the medical community because “with the elimination of all that debt, it makes it possible to keep more doctors in family practice medicine,” which he describes as a high-demand field with declining physician numbers, due in part to its relatively lower salary figures.

But, it’s not all about the money. “The military gives these students continuous training, job variety and the chance to work with a young, diverse population,” says Davis, who also advises the OU-COM chapter of the Association of Military Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons (AMOPS).

Army recruit Emily Heckerdorn, OMS I, agrees. “(Military medicine) offers so many opportunities to travel and serve people of all racial and economic backgrounds.”

Plus, the sense of community that grows among medical students only intensifies in a military setting, Davis says. “The armed forces mean instantaneous bonding. You make friends as soon as you come to a base, and those friendships are solid,” Davis says.

Jaymee Morrison, OMS I, a self-described “military brat” entering the Army, explains why she chose to commit: “I love my country, and I love the military lifestyle.”

Love of county is a familiar theme with these students. Many have family in the armed forces—siblings, parents, grandparents—and have seen firsthand the opportunities and challenges facing families of those who serve. 

Jenna Zerkle, OMS I, who also is entering the Army, became interested in the military in high school. She made up her mind to pursue a military career after talking to a recruiter during her undergraduate studies at the University of Rio Grande.  

Despite Zerkle’s confident resolve, her family was not immediately behind the decision. “I told them that I was doing it. My dad wasn’t supportive at first; he was scared for me. But, they are all supportive now.”

That happens often, says Davis. “The job is risk apparent. It seems like it’s very dangerous, but it really isn’t. Most of the time, you’re well out of harm’s way. The military wants to make sure that nothing happens to their medical personnel.”  

Worry about war seems far from these students’ minds. Andrew Little, OMS I, who is entering the Ohio Army National Guard, has joined up because, he says, “I feel that I can be of service to those who defend our country.”  

“I think that these are some of the most selfless people I know,” Davis says of the recruits. “Not only have they chosen to enter a field where they are serving others directly every day in medicine, but they have decided to commit to serving their country, as well.”

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Last updated: 01/28/2016