My military residency: general surgery at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth

Students who have committed to the nation’s military through the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), which provides tuition support for medical school in exchange for military service, go through a residency match process that culminates in December, three months prior to the civilian residency match. In December 2021, fourth-year students in DMU’s osteopathic medicine program and the HPSP landed a variety of residencies from coast to coast, all in service to our nation. This blog post features Austin James, who will experience a general surgery residency at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

Growing up, Austin James was always interested in the military. His parents encouraged him to go to college before joining, which furthered his other interest, health care. As a biology undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, he worked part-time jobs in family medicine and sports medicine clinics. There he learned about the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), offered by the Army, Navy and Air Force to qualified medical and dental students.

Austin James in Newport, RI, the night before his graduation from the Navy’s Officer Development School

It was an opportunity to combine his interests: HPSP covers students’ medical school tuition and fees in exchange for an equal number of years of service to their chosen military branch. Austin commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy before he began DMU’s osteopathic medicine program.

Now a fourth-year student, Austin in June will begin a five-year general surgery residency at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, the Navy’s oldest, continuously operating hospital since 1830, in Portsmouth, VA.

“I really like the faculty there,” he says. They include Commander Timothy Platz, D.O., a 2003 DMU graduate and a staff surgical oncologist at Portsmouth who’s on the general surgery residency faculty. “I enjoy the area and knew I’d get excellent training.”

Austin’s interest in surgery was sparked during a gap year between his undergraduate education and medical school, when he worked as an operating room assistant.

“That’s a fancy term for OR janitor,” he says. “I had quite a bit of down time, so I’d peek my head into the operating room and watch the surgeries. A surgical clerkship I had during my third year at DMU sealed the deal.”

Austin with his fiancee and fellow DMU student, McKayla Seymour

After his first year of residency, Austin will either continue his surgical training or participate in a general medical officer, flight surgery or undersea medical officer tour. After residency, he may pursue a fellowship in vascular surgery as a member of the Navy Reserves. Wherever his path takes him, he’s excited to serve his country.

“I really like the idea of being part of a team and something bigger than myself. It’s almost like taking care of your family, because you’re all part of this organization,” he says. “It’s a different type of feeling, taking care of people who are ‘yours.’ It’s a bond you have. You feel you already know your patients when you meet them, because you share similar experiences and backgrounds.”

He also feels a bond with his DMU classmates, including his fiancée, McKayla Seymour, a fourth-year student in DMU’s College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS). They met at DMU during their second year and became engaged in December.

“I’ve met fellow students I’m very proud to know and glad to be friends with,” he says. “I think they’re going to be excellent doctors, and I’m proud to be part of that group.”

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