2nd Quarter, 2005
Medical Professions Scholarship Winner
He is married, with two daughters and lives in Peoria, IL. He has served in the Army and Army Reserve for 22 years and has served 18 months in Kuwait and Iraq (February 2003 – July 2004) as a medic.
A Portion of Clark’s Winning Essay:
I joined the Army at age 19 and trained to become a medic, mainly to see if I had any aptitude for it. I was considering a career in medicine but wasn’t sure if it was really for me. The Army was offering money for college, so I figured I would try it for a few years. The recruiter filled my head with images of working with cute nurses in nice, white uniforms, clean hospitals… sounded great!
My first tour of duty was in Korea, where the only thing that was white were the mountains of snow and where there were NO cute nurses (the recruiter had somehow neglected to mention anything about Korea). During my year in this winter wonderland I had an experience that changed my life forever and put me on the course I’m now following. I can’t say it was a pleasant experience for anyone involved, but it was important nonetheless. It convinced me that a career in medicine was my destiny.
I was assigned as a field medic to a Combat Engineer unit, and during one winter field exercise a soldier in my unit was injured while helping build a bridge. The bridge was mobile and as it was being moved the soldier fell into its path, severing the fingers on his left hand. In the blink of an eye our company literally went from tired, cold, and cranky to completely freaked out.
I treated him the best I could, bandaging him and starting an IV (not easy to do in -20 degree weather) while awaiting the helicopter that would take him to the hospital in Seoul. I was terrified, wondering why in the world I had put myself into the position I was in. The recruiter had also neglected to mention that things like this would happen.
That night I was told to report to the commander’s tent. I was petrified, anticipating a chewing out for having messed something up that afternoon. I’d spent the entire afternoon reliving the event, critiquing my performance and finding hundreds of flaws. I imagined I was going to be relieved of duty and probably sent to the stockade, or maybe to North Korea.
The commander sat me down and told me that the hospital had contacted him by radio with an update on the soldier I’d treated. His voice was very somber as he said it, filling my mind with images of the soldier in a body bag, awaiting a flight back to his grieving family. How I kept from throwing up is still a mystery to me.
The hospital, he told me, had managed to reattach all of the soldiers’ fingers, and it appeared that he would regain at least partial use of all of them. He paused to let this sink in, and then he congratulated me on my performance and informed me that as of that moment, I was assigned permanently as his company’s medic. He said that if we ended up having to face the North Koreans in the next year, he wanted me taking care of his men.
I cannot describe how I felt at that moment or the rest of that night (besides cold, of course), but it was a defining moment in my life. I knew that night that I had made the right choice and that medicine was my future.
I left Active Duty a few years later and joined an Army Reserve hospital unit which I still belong to 18 years later. During that time, I also became a civilian paramedic, served on a volunteer fire department, and worked as a technician in an Intensive Care Unit. I took classes at the local community college at night and managed to get accepted into Southern Illinois University’s Physician Assistant program.
As luck would have it, my war wasn’t in Korea in 1985, but in Iraq in 2003. I put my studies, my family, and my dream on hold and spent the next 17 months learning just how unpleasant the world can be. My job during my sojourn into hell was to run the night shift of a Combat Support Hospital, trying to repair the damage that the guests at our little party in the desert inflicted on each other, all in the name of something or other.
I’m back in school now, exactly one year from graduation in fact, anticipating a career as a Cardiology Physician Assistant. I’m looking forward to jumping into the trenches in the war on coronary artery disease, working in a Cardiac Cath lab or perhaps assisting on open heart surgeries. The opportunities are endless, really, and the demand for PAs is high.
To answer the second part of your question, on what contribution I will make to the medical world, I’d have to say that I’ve made a pretty big one already. I plan to be a part of a team that improves the quality of life for its patients by fixing their hearts when they break, but that’s merely the next step, not the whole story.
I spent twelve years with an ambulance service in a fairly large city, dragging broken bodies out of car accidents and trying to resuscitate cardiac arrest victims, some of which hadn’t yet celebrated their first birthday. I trained countless paramedic and EMT interns over the years and served as an operations supervisor for more than half of my career in EMS. I eventually left it because, as rewarding as it could be, it wasn’t enough.
I worked in an Intensive Care Unit next, helping care for the sickest of patients, comforting their families, and learning about how to care for people from a different perspective. Many of the patients were cardiac patients, which is what has led me to my present career goal.
And finally, I’ve spent the last twenty-one years of my life as a soldier; training, preparing, and finally working as a medic during a war. I felt an obligation to our country and those who defend it, and when the call came I answered it. I didn’t save the world, or even all of my patients, but I did make a difference, at least to some of those I treated. I also managed to survive the ordeal AND bring all of my soldiers home alive.
So when you ask me what contribution I will make to the medical world in the future, I’m not sure I can honestly answer that. My entire adult life I’ve worked in the medical world, and at the risk of sounding immodest, I’ve managed to contribute a fair amount already. My future career will offer a number of opportunities for me to help others, and I fully intend to take advantage of as many of those opportunities as I can.
As the saying goes, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”….
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