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Meet the First Coast Guard Sponsored USU Medical Student

Image of US Coast Guard Ensign Bobczynski smiles at camera. U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduate, Ensign Elyse Bobczynski has the distinction of being the first USCG-sponsored student to attend medical school at the Uniformed Services University.

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U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduate, Ensign Elyse Bobczynski has the distinction of being the first USCG-sponsored student to attend medical school at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Coast Guard, which falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, has physician assistants and health services technicians, but it does not have its own dedicated medical corps. Instead, the U.S. Public Health Service provides care for USCG service members and their families, who may also seek care from Department of Defense providers in military medical treatment facilities. As a result, there is no direct path from the Coast Guard Academy to medical school other than completing your service obligation, getting out, and then pursuing medical school on your own.

Bobczynski, who graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 2015, knew in her first year at the Academy that she wanted to become a physician. She was partially inspired to pursue medicine after suffering a head injury while in school there.

"There were many complications with it, and I was in and out of the clinic for about 10 months. But it was this experience that helped me solidify my desire to help other people who were medically challenged," Bobczynski recalls.

She changed her major from Civil Engineering to Marine and Environmental Sciences, which was the closest she could get to pre-med. She also worked in the biochemistry lab to gain more experience.

When Bobczynski graduated, she was assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Walnut in Hawaii. Her job was to drive a 225-foot cutter around the Hawaiian Islands chain and service the Aids to Navigation -- minor lights, lighthouses, day beacons, range lights, sound signals, lighted or unlighted buoys, etc. -- which help boaters safely navigate waterways. And while in Hawaii, she studied for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).

"I made friends with our independent duty corpsman onboard,” Bobczynski divulges. “For about two years, I picked his brain and slowly tried to learn everything that would help me potentially go to medical school. I had a goal, and I was laser-focused on it."

Later, Bobczynski transitioned to Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the office of the Deputy Commandant for Operations. She also devoted hours to studying for the MCAT, as well as taking other pre-med courses.

"I met people who helped me, and I developed connections to present my idea of becoming a doctor while still being in the Coast Guard,” Bobczynski explains. “I hoped things would work out so that the Coast Guard could actually send me to medical school. But, it wasn’t possible at that time."

Bobczynski refused to abandon her goal of becoming a doctor while being in the Coast Guard. She wrote a proposal and submitted it through her chain of command, but it didn't go anywhere.

"That didn't stop me," Bobczynski admits. "I thought that I'd just have to find a different way because my end goal was to attend medical school. If it happened in the Coast Guard, then fine. Separating from service wasn't my first choice, but I was going to medical school no matter what.

"I love the Coast Guard, I love our mission, and I love the people," Bobczynski beams. "I knew that I wanted to remain in the military, and USU was always my first choice for medical school. Even though I applied the first time and was denied, I was determined to just keep applying until I was accepted."

She cites the unified, teamwork environment at USU as a major draw to the university for her.

At the outset of the pandemic, her Chief Medical Officer discovered that Bobczynski wanted to go to medical school.

"She wanted me to come work for her so she could mentor and guide me," reveals Bobczynski. "So, I worked for her at the beginning of COVID. I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to policy creation, COVID decision-making, and other pandemic lessons. I was smack in the middle of medicine and healthcare―a great place to learn."

After a few months, the Coast Guard created a new job for her working in informatics, specifically with electronic health records. During this time, Bobczynski applied to and was accepted at USU and was able to stay in the Coast Guard to be the first Coast Guard-sponsored medical student.

"We've never had a Coast Guard-sponsored member at USU. Our current medical corps consists of Commissioned Corps Public Health Service officers. It's definitely been a process. However, sheer determination and knowing the right people who were willing to help me was actually what got me here," Bobczynski observes.

"We're excited to have our first Coast Guard-sponsored student at USU," says Navy Capt. (Dr.) Robert Liotta, associate dean for Recruitment and Admissions at USU's Hebert School of Medicine. "This new partnership is significant in that it increases the value of USU to the medical readiness of our nation's armed forces and the Department of Homeland Security."

"I want to help Coast Guardsmen because I have seen the difficulties that they face when it comes to getting medical care," Bobczynski added. "They need doctors who understand what they are feeling and going through. I want to be fully committed to my career, while also making a real difference."

Bobczynski believes her medical field specialty choices may be limited to family medicine, preventive medicine, emergency medicine, and internal medicine because of the needs of the Coast Guard. Already, she's leaning toward family medicine, but is open to all opportunities.

"How I see it is that all my doors are open. The hardest part was to convince the Coast Guard to send me to medical school. I'm super lucky and blessed beyond all measure. I know that there are quite a few people in the Coast Guard who also want to be doctors. I hope I can help open the pipeline so they can follow their dreams as well."

For Bobczynski, the road to the future is wide open. "Now, I'm choosing my own adventure, and I'm just going to try everything. I'm going to build my life as I imagine it. The worst thing that they can say is no. I've already heard that several times in my life, so I'm just going to keep on forging through with a smile on my face."

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