Not too long in to her first semester of medical school, BCOM student Larissa Check realized she was in over her head financially. With tuition, books, supplies, and living expenses to cover, the rigors of medical school don’t leave much extra time for a job.
Check reached out to friends at other medical schools for advice and they brought up the military. In March 2017, she was sworn in as a second lieutenant in the United States Army by BCOM’s Director of Simulation Samuel Gutierrez.
Gutierrez retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Army where he served with the 75th Ranger Regiment and at the Command & General Staff College. He said, “It was a privilege and an honor to swear in Larissa Check. To see a young person from BCOM going into the military and continuing the legacy of so many is exciting.”
Check doesn’t have to begin serving the time she’s committed to the military until 2020, when she graduates medical school and enters into her residency training. Yet she’s already receiving a monthly living stipend which gives her the financial freedom to focus on her medical studies.
Jorey Cunico signed up for a similar program through the United States Air Force. “Being a military doctor will essentially be my first job in my medical career,” he explained. “I’m not certain what specialty I’d like to be in yet, but what’s nice about taking the military scholarship is that I have options. I have the ability to apply to both the residency spread within the military and within the civilian world.”
BCOM’s Founding Dean George Mychaskiw II, DO, served eight years in the US Army Medical Corps. He remembers the experience as a very “true and pure practice of medicine,” with more time spent treating patients than dealing with insurance hassles.
“One neat thing about the military is that you could get a chance to practice in another country. I was stationed in the United States, but a buddy of mine had the Navy pay for medical school and then ended up stationed in Naples, Italy,” added Assistant Dean of Clinical Affairs Oliver W. Hayes, DO, who served in the US Army Medical Corps at Brooke Army Medical Center treating wounded soldiers flown in from Iraq and Afghanistan. “I found all my duties in the military interesting. You really start to understand what war means at a personal level.”
While the military is an ideal option for students struggling to pay for medical school, BCOM is also extremely welcoming to current service members and veterans. Director of Admissions Adrian Alba said the leadership and teamwork experience service members possess makes them ideal for a brand new medical school that’s looking for students to mentor and lead others.
Second year student Chris Hooshmand served four years in the United States Marine Corps before coming to BCOM. “The discipline I learned in the Marine Corps definitely helps me. Sometimes I’ll be studying and think I can’t do any more work, but I just stay there and keep grinding because that’s what you have to do,” he said, adding that the ability to multitask and integrate people from different backgrounds into team projects are other benefits he gained from his time in the military.
Hooshmand used the GI Bill® to pay for his undergraduate studies, but he said Marlene Melendez, BCOM’s director of financial aid, found other avenues of assistance for him and helped set up a VA work study. “If you are a veteran, Marlene will find every resource to help you succeed here at BCOM,” he said.
Melendez is working to get approval from the state VA for other entitlements for military students. For students that may not qualify for certain military programs, like the Health Professions Scholarship Program which has a GPA and MCAT requirement, Melendez directs them towards the STRAP program which offers a monthly stipend and up to $250,000 in debt forgiveness if the student joins the military after graduation.
Whether a student is coming from or going into the military, Melendez says she and her team try to make the benefit process as smooth as possible. “We make sure we’re able to turn over paperwork in a timely manner so there’s no delay in the student receiving funds. We also make sure students don’t have to take out any loans to make any payments if there is a gap in receiving funds. We’ll make the adjustments. We’ll work with the government to ensure billing and invoices go through them. Once we get a letter that they’re eligible for a program, any program, we can ensure the student won’t have to pay.”
BCOM’s President John L. Hummer—also a veteran who served eight years with the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s Corps—said this is just the beginning of BCOM’s bond with the military and the VA. The school is currently developing training and professional opportunities at military hospitals and VA clinics all over the region.
“Here in New Mexico, we have what we think is a unique opportunity for military professionals to pursue their medical dreams in an area that embraces the military, respects the military, and compared to other parts of country, at a price point that brings a lot of value,” Hummer said. “Here at BCOM we are tied to the community and our community is tied to the military. It’s part of who we are.”
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill