Katrina Nietsch- Naval Special Warfare to Medical School!

Why did you join the military? I joined the military because I wanted to do something bigger than myself and effect impactful change. I felt compelled to serve my country after I saw the tragic events of September 11th, which forced me to reflect on my future and the ways in which I could contribute to protecting my country. Being in such close proximity to New York City, I observed members of my class grieve the loss of their family members, and friends. This galvanized my desire to serve and participate in a future greater than myself. I loved the idea of a threefold mission to excel morally, mentally, and physically so I applied for the United States Naval Academy my senior year of high school. I joined the military in 2007, which was when the United States was in the midst of the Global War on Terrorism.  

What did you do in the military? I originally intended to enlist and become a Navy diver but I decided instead to attend the United States Naval Academy. I selected Navy Pilot after receiving my commission and started flight school training in September of 2011. I earned my Naval Aviator “Wings of gold” in 2014 and went on to fly the C-2A Greyhound. I became an Instructor Pilot and the Program Manager of the C-2A Fleet. I deployed twice with two different aircraft carriers to Central and South America and to the Middle East. During my last tour of the Navy, I served with Naval Special Warfare flying unmanned aerial systems all over the globe.

How did that impact you/inform your decision to pursue a medical degree? Was it a specific event or did you always know you would pursue medicine? I always knew that I would pursue medicine following my career as an aviator, but there were specific events during my military experience that made it very clear that practicing medicine would be in my future. One of our missions as C-2A pilots is to fly MEDEVAC missions by transporting critical patients off of aircraft carriers. One mission in particular changed my life. We were tasked to fly over 400 miles into Acapulco, Mexico in order to transport an 18-year-old patient with severe seizures who was fighting for her life. The medical staff worked tirelessly in the back of the airplane to stabilize her condition and manage the everchanging circumstances of her care throughout the flight. I saw firsthand the results of our efforts and the significant role the medical staff played in saving this young woman’s life. In 2010, I was fortunate enough to travel to Africa with the Navy where I saw firsthand the effects of inadequate healthcare access in a third-world country. This provided perspective for global health issues and sparked a newfound desire to bridge the gap in global healthcare disparities. These experiences shaped my outlook on medicine and cemented my desire to pursue a career as a physician.

Why did you decide on the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai for medical school? I was drawn to the program because I was interested in the school’s advocacy for veterans and their values of innovation, community, collaboration, passion for medicine, and intellectual curiosity. I also was really interested in the research opportunities within the Mount Sinai health system. A mentor of mine informed me about the U.S. Military Institutional Partnership with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in 2018 and I decided to apply the same year. After I visited the school for an interview, toured the campus, and met current students, I was completely enamored. I was wholeheartedly motivated to ensure I would attend Mount Sinai one day.

What advice do you have for other veterans that want to pursue medicine? My best advice would be to stay positive and remind yourself that anything is possible with hard work and commitment. Rely on your mentors who have been through the process and do not be afraid of asking questions. The journey is long and arduous, so it is important to keep the big picture in mind and leverage your passion for medicine without getting bogged down by any obstacles along the way. The network of veterans in medicine is so supportive and informative so do not hesitate to reach out and seek advice from those that have gone before you!

Flying the Grumman C-2A Greyhound on a training mission down the Hudson River overlooking New York City and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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