By AJ Elumn

Are you a veteran interested in medicine and think that not having served in a healthcare-related MOS or rate works against you? I’m happy to tell you that you’re wrong! If you’re genuinely interested in medicine and can provide proof that you’ve tested this interest, your military experience will serve as an incredible asset for building your primary essay.

The first thing to think about is how to explain what drove you toward medicine. This explanation can be guided by a seed that was planted before you enlisted or commissioned, or could have developed by some of the things you’ve done or seen while serving. For the late bloomers (myself included), the drive toward medicine could have evolved from your experiences as an undergraduate student and volunteer, but retrospectively reinforced by your time in service. The point? It’s never too late, and with proper planning, an interest in medicine doesn’t have to seem too soon.

Note, however, that this isn’t a suggestion that veteran applicants are waived from obtaining healthcare experience. While medics and corpsmen will have a wealth of relevant experience to pull from, those of us who don’t are still able to gain this through entry-level jobs (medical assistant, EMT, scribing), shadowing physicians, and volunteering in in-patient or ER settings. In other words: you’re still going to need some combination of these experiences to verify your interests, and because you’re not precluded from getting them, you should get them. Don’t engage in these opportunities to check the box; do them because you earnestly want to feel out what direct patient interactions are like. Do them because you weren’t sure about medicine. Do them because you want to learn more about what you’re getting yourself into. Do them because you genuinely want to serve people – that’s a statement that ought to resonate with ANY veteran.

What about the military itself? Military experience is an excellent way to kick off a narrative of reinvention and maturity. For those of us who were academically diligent, you can focus on how well-rounded your education was and how you sought challenges reserved for our nation’s bravest and brightest. In either case, you’ll bring up the core values that have been integrated into your life and how you’ve been tested. What you won’t do is be apologetic for your service no matter your specialty – I don’t recommend bringing up what you believe are conflicts with medicine only to try to resolve them in paragraph form. Tell us instead about how the military helped create the individual you are today, and the physician you will be “tomorrow” (realistically, at least 7 years later!) because of it.

There’s a lot to say, and many ways to say it, when writing your primary essay. Here are some ideas for great starting material as you think about putting it together: What do your honors, awards, and decorations citations read? Where have you been and what missions have you been a part of? What ancillary duties did you accept in addition to your primary ones? How do your performance reports read? A successful veteran and serious medical school applicant will be able to build a strong narrative with military service as an asset to, if not the center of, the essay.

Lastly, every detail matters, but not every detail belongs on the essay. Use your essay to hook an interview invitation by including the most powerful and pertinent parts of your background, but consider saving the specifics for the interview. The same details that can obfuscate the message of your written essay might better serve you by instead allowing you to speak articulately about your military background.

Carry on!