Benjamin Bryant (GRD ’17) was one of 60 former or active military members in 2015 to be awarded a prestigious Pat Tillman Scholarship for his pre-medical school coursework.

The academic scholarship funds recipients’ degrees, covering not only direct tuition expenses, but also other needs including housing and child care. It was created in 2004 to honor the legacy of Pat Tillman, a star defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals who voluntarily left the National Football League after the Sept. 11 attacks to join the military and was killed in Afghanistan.

“Our program unites the best talent and leadership in the military to make a significant impact in the fields of medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and the arts,” the Pat Tillman Foundation website reads. “The Tillman Scholars program supports our nation’s active-duty service members, veterans and military spouses by investing in their higher education.”

Bryant did not always dream of becoming a doctor. He enlisted in the Army shortly after graduating from high school in Indiana and was later admitted to the United States Military Academy. But as Bryant was preparing to graduate from West Point in 2007, his older brother and role model was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“My older brother, he’s kind of perfect,” Bryant said. “He was already a major in the Army, and a general’s aide, and just doing great things.”

Bryant identified his brother’s diagnosis as the first turning point that drew him to health care. The next came in 2009, when Bryant was deployed to Iraq as a field artillery officer in the 10th Mountain Division and came into regular contact with Army doctors.

“I went to Iraq and I saw how well the health care community took care of any of our injured soldiers. They’re really pretty phenomenal,” Bryant said.

While deployed in Iraq, Bryant began following the health care reform debate that was raging back in the United States as newly inaugurated President Barack Obama placed health care at the top of the national agenda. Bryant paid close attention to the intense public scrutiny placed on the Affordable Care Act, and his fascination led him to decide to make the career switch to health care and apply to Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies.

Not only was Bryant admitted to the Master of Science in Health Systems Administration Program, he was also awarded the Tillman Scholarship and then accepted to a one-year pre-medical certificate program. Bryant attributed his success to his start in the master’s program.

“I didn’t think I had the academic chops to do it, but being in that program gave me a lot of confidence,” Bryant said. “I did very well in it and I just thought, you know, I should try out and see if I can get into the pre-med program.”

After finishing his pre-medical coursework, Bryant will complete his master’s while applying to medical schools. Though the master’s is not necessary for medical school, Bryant aims to continue learning about the complexities of the health care system and ways to address its problems.

Bryant said that he plans to use his combined master’s and medical degree to return to the military or the Veterans Administration to care for soldiers and veterans.

“I don’t think I would be content with just being a doctor in the hospital,” Bryant said. “In my master’s program I really got a good look at the state of the health care system. There is a lot of evidence out there that what we need is a lot more general practitioners. We need family doctors and a lot of people that can take care of a lot of people instead of specialists that can only do one little thing.”

Science in health systems administration professor Ryung Suh (MED ’98, GRD ’98, GRD ’03), a mentor to Bryant, recommended him for the scholarship. Suh is a fellow graduate of West Point and a combat veteran who was the task force surgeon in Kandahar, Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom when Tillman was killed.

“I was honored to recommend Benjamin for the Tillman Scholarship,” Suh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “He reads broadly, thinks critically and is preparing himself for a range of future contributions to the health care industry — as a clinician and as a health executive. He embodies the spirit of Georgetown, preparing himself to serve others in the world and constantly seeking opportunities for intellectual, spiritual and moral growth.”

Even though Bryant spends his days taking classes with Georgetown undergraduates, he serves as a captain in the Maryland National Guard on reserve duty. Last year, he left Georgetown in the midst of finals and deployed to Baltimore in the wake of the Freddie Gray protests.

Bryant still has a long road ahead of him before he becomes a doctor, but he said that he is currently focused on working hard and making the most of the opportunity the Pat Tillman Foundation has given him.

“I really want to do well,” Bryant said. “I want to show them that they made the right decision in supporting me.”

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