BETHESDA, Md. --
Enlisted service members have often been referred to as the backbone of the military for their support, leadership, willingness to get the job done, and thirst for knowledge. Retaining dedicated, talented troops is important to ensuring that their experience is passed on to the next generation of noncommissioned officers and to preparing them for careers in the civilian sector once they leave the service.
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, known as USU, offers a wide variety of educational opportunities open to enlisted personnel.
USU, a Defense Department agency, is the nation’s only federal health sciences university. The school’s main campus is here, next door to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and it also offers a programs for enlisted service members in San Antonio.
College of Allied Health Sciences
Congress granted approval in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act for USU to grant undergraduate degrees. As a result, the University’s College of Allied Health Sciences was established to meet the needs of corpsmen, medics, technicians and the services by awarding transferable college credits that can lead to undergraduate degrees for enlisted students completing military medical training programs at the Defense Health Agency’s Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. The degree program can make students more competitive for promotion and more marketable in the civilian sector once they leave active duty.
USU faculty members assess academic portfolios for students enrolled in one of five METC programs -- surgical technologist, medical laboratory technologist, nuclear medicine technician, physical therapy technician, and neuro-diagnostic technician -- and for instructors in 49 METC programs.
An expansion is planned to include more METC programs, and other military organizations have also expressed interest in working with the college, including the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the Tri-Service Research Laboratory at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, and the Community College of the Air Force.
Students’ qualifications, as well as the training received at METC, is documented and transferred to recognized, transcripted college credits with the opportunity to complete a degree awarded from USU once enough credits are earned, officials said. These transcripts also capture previous education and training for enrolled students, and apply current course work toward requirements for a USU degree in a process fully vetted and approved by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, USU’s accrediting institution.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Eccles, a medical laboratory program instructor at METC, was the first graduate of USU’s College of Allied Health Sciences last year. Eccles earned his Associate of Science degree in health sciences and will begin work on his bachelor’s degree this month.
“I was honored to earn my first, but not last, degree from USU,” he said. “I am even more excited for all the service members who will be following me in this program to be able to earn their degrees from USU.
“I look at this program and what it will offer to all the service members coming through the medical laboratory program and other programs,” he continued, “and it fills me with happiness to know that these soldiers, sailors and airmen won’t have to struggle as much as I did to earn their degrees. I already have been telling my peers and students [that] this is the best opportunity available to service members and the most painless way to earn our degrees.”
Enlisted to Physician Program
The USU Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program, or EMDP2, was designed to give promising enlisted service members interested in becoming military physicians a pathway to medical school.
The two-year program is a partnership of USU, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the George Mason University-Prince William Campus in Manassas, Virginia. Students remain on active duty and maintain their current pay and benefits while going to school full time.
Program components include undergraduate-level science coursework in a traditional classroom setting, structured pre-health advising, formal Medical College Admission Test preparation, dedicated faculty and peer mentoring at USU, and integrated clinical exposure, officials noted.
Once they complete the rigorous program, successful students will be competitive for acceptance to U.S. medical schools, USU officials said. Students are required to apply for medical school at USU, but also may apply for entrance to other medical schools through the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program.
Nearly 70 students have been accepted into the EMDP2 program to date, with backgrounds ranging from combat medics to air traffic controllers to linguists to musicians. Currently, 21 EMDP2 program graduates have enrolled in medical school; 18 are attending USU’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine, and the other three are enrolled at civilian medical schools.
“I think one outstanding thing about this program, from the day I submitted my packet, is that everyone is encouraging and they are motivated to see you succeed,” said former Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Richter, a member of the charter EMDP2 class and now a second lieutenant and student in the Hebert School of Medicine class of 2020. “Should you need any help, whether it’s academically or administratively, there is someone willing to help you out. … I commonly tell my colleagues that if you can’t succeed in this situation, you might need to find a different path.”
Each service has its own application requirements and acceptance criteria.
F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine
Participating in the EMDP2 program is not the only way enlisted members can enter medical school at USU’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine. Army Col. (Dr.) Robert Mabry served 11 years as an Army Ranger infantryman and Special Forces medical sergeant before applying to medical school at USU. Mabry, who served as a rescue medic with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia, during the infamous “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993, chose USU after interviewing for medical schools because, he said, “the whole organization was dedicated to ensuring my success as a doctor.”
Mabry’s NCO experience paved the way for his career in emergency medicine. Since graduating from USU, he has served as the program director of the Military Emergency Medical Services and Disaster Medicine Fellowship, the largest EMS fellowship in the nation, and as the director of trauma care delivery at the Department of Defense Trauma Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. He completed the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program, where he helped develop health policy while serving on Capitol Hill, and now serves as the Joint Special Operations Command Surgeon at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“Bob came to USU, 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,” said Dr. Art Kellerman, dean of the Hebert School of Medicine. “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.”
NCOs who have their undergraduate degree and meet the criteria for entrance can apply for admission. Fifteen percent of the class that entered USU this past year spent time in the enlisted ranks before starting medical school.
In addition to the regular medical school admission process, enlisted interested in applying to USU must have the support of their current command, which will execute a DD-368, a conditional release -- conditional on acceptance -- for the service member for entry into medical school.
Hebert School of Medicine alumni have gone on to serve in a wide variety of exciting jobs, including NASA astronaut, service surgeon general, White House physician, hospital commander, and like Mabry, medical leadership for operational forces.
Graduate Programs in the Biomedical Sciences and Public Health
USU’s Hebert School of Medicine also has graduate degree programs in the biomedical sciences and public health. They include doctoral programs in emerging infectious diseases, neuroscience, molecular and cell biology, medical psychology, clinical psychology, health professions education, environmental health sciences, and medical zoology. In addition, master’s degree programs are offered in public health, tropical medicine and hygiene, health administration and policy, health professions education and military medical history.
All of these programs are open to enlisted service members, with the exception of one clinical psychology track that is open only to civilians, and the Master of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which is available only to military physicians whose careers are focused on tropical medicine.
Students enrolled in USU’s graduate programs remain on active duty and maintain their rank and pay throughout their enrollment. As with all of USU’s educational programs, tuition is waived. An additional service commitment is incurred after successful completion of the program. Interested applicants must have the support of their command to apply for these programs.
Army Sgt. Julie Bytnar made history as USU’s first enlisted graduate student. Bytnar was a lead health care specialist with deployment experience in Afghanistan, where she treated everything from minor to life-threatening injuries. Her experiences there led her to consider pursuing a Master of Public Health degree from USU, where she could focus on injury prevention and epidemiology. She graduated in 2015 with her MPH, and is now pursuing her Doctor of Public Health degree from USU.
“I made it through basic training with a bunch of soldiers in their late teens and early 20s. I’ve gone on dismounted patrols in a war zone and treated some pretty grievous injuries. Now I’m at USU. I feel like there isn’t a whole lot I can’t do.”