Future physicians prepare to serve patients, country

Joining the military was an easy decision for Stacey Stevens, a fourth-year UF College of Medicine student.

One of four daughters of a retired U.S. Army captain, Stevens grew up in a patriotic family, and she and her sisters were taught to never take the freedoms in America for granted. Stevens reflects on what it takes to give back this Veteran’s Day.

“I remember how upset my father was when the 9/11 attack happened,” Stevens said. “He wished he could go back and serve even at his age. There was an internal switch at that moment, and I knew that one way or another, I wanted to serve and give back to my country.”

Stevens is one of 11 UF College of Medicine students currently receiving a Health Professions Scholarship.

The U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army offer Health Professions Scholarship Programs that provide tuition, books, a monthly stipend and health insurance. Some scholarships offer additional $20,000 sign-on bonuses. In return, recipients must serve at least three years of active duty.

Julia Greene and Stacey Stevens, fourth-year UF College of Medicine students. Photo by Maria Belen-Farias

At UF, six of the medical students receiving the Health Professions Scholarship are women, according to Eileen Parris, the college’s financial aid administrator. Six medical students are in the Navy, three are in the Air Force and two serve in the Army.

Interest seems to have rebounded lately in the program – five of the 11 students are first-year medical students, she said. Meanwhile, the second- and third-year classes both have one student in the program and the fourth-year class has four students.

Julia Greene, another fourth-year UF College of Medicine student, decided halfway through her first year of medical school to take advantage of the U.S. Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program.

As for her choice of programs, she said with a smile, “The Army runs in my blood.”

Her father served in the Army for 20 years before retiring to Ocala, and her brother, uncle and grandfather also served in the Army.

Greene, 25, said the financial benefits of the program, the tight-knit community and the unique clinical opportunities attracted her to the program.

Meanwhile, Stevens, who used to play on the Gator softball team with her twin sister, commissioned in the U.S. Navy in the spring of 2008 before starting medical school in the fall.

“Being on the softball team, I knew what it meant to sacrifice and to honor the contract once you’ve committed,” she said.

Stevens and Greene both completed officer training during the summer and will move up in officer ranking after graduation.

As military students, they will have a different residency match experience during their fourth year in medical school. They will match to military medical centers and find out their residency site in December, instead of March.

“I finalized my decision to choose OB-GYN as my specialty and named San Diego as my No. 1 choice for match,” said Stevens, whose fiancé is also in the Navy and studying medicine in another state.

Greene, who plans to specialize in general surgery, hopes to match at San Antonio Military Medical Center. She has completed rotations at the San Antonio center as well as at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.

After her residency, Greene estimates that she will owe the Army about six years of service and looks forward to  a career in the military.

Lt. Jillian M. Schuch said she’s seen an increase in scholarship applicants over the three years she’s been recruiting for the Navy’s Medical Officer Programs in Gainesville. The Navy generally awards about 170 scholarships nationally each year to medical students.

“In the past we didn’t always award all scholarships that were available and would offer two and three-year scholarships,” she said. “However, now we fill out our yearly number early and have to turn people away.”

Tech. Sgt. Frank Wallace Jr., an Air Force Health Professions representative in Orlando, said the Air Force awards about 220 medical school scholarships annually. It’s competitive — last year, 10 out of 22 applicants from Florida and Puerto Rico were selected as recipients, he said.

“As the cost of medical school increases, students are definitely looking into our program more each year,” Wallace said.

Celebrating Veteran’s Day this month, Stevens has received many thanks from those around her. But she realizes that she, too, is thankful.

“It takes very little courage on our part to make this commitment,” she said. “To have the opportunity to help and serve the people who sacrifice so much more is far more meaningful.”