In a moment that felt like the culmination of a lifetime, second-year osteopathic medical student Haley Heitzman joined a group of her peers, committing to continue her selfless service to others as a member of the United State’s Navy.
Standing outside of PNWU’s Butler-Haney Hall, tears welled in Lynette Denison’s eyes. It was her daughter Haley’s twenty-fifth birthday, and as she listened to her utter an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, a lifetime of memories flooded in. For the proud mother of the dedicated medical student, it seemed as if Haley’s entire life had led to this very moment.
“She has a heart of gold for everybody, and she has since she was a baby,” Denison explained. “She’d give the shirt off of her back to anybody. Whatever she can do — that’s just Haley.”
Today, that character-defining selflessness and dedication seemed to come full-circle, as Haley was commissioned as a member of the United States Navy.
“I came to this school to give back to those who are underserved, and I think that is the military’s mission in general: to serve those who can’t serve themselves,” said Heitzman. Still, her decision to join the Navy was not an easy one. Medical school had already pushed her beyond her comfort zone, and she admits that the idea of taking on another challenge frightened her. In her moments of trepidation, however, she reflected on the advice of her best friend Mark, who had passed away a year-and-a-half-earlier.
“He always told me that greatness lies just on the other side of your comfort zone, and you always have to push toward that,” she explained. “With decisions like this, Mark’s words always stick with me.” Determined to maximize her own greatness, Heitzman decided to tap into another rich source of inspiration: the likeminded people that surrounded her at PNWU.
Heitzman credits countless conversations with fellow military-medicine classmates, including Austin Sisneros, Katie Heiss and Laura Castro, as the fuel that kept pushing her forward. In addition to that rich military culture within the student body, she also had access to PNWU’s administration, staff and faculty, which was similarly dotted with veterans — including John Moore, DO, who serves as Chair of PNWU’s Department of Family Medicine, and shared stories of his time as a flight surgeon with Heitzman.
"Everyone who comes to medical school has their own unique journey," explained second-year PNWU medical student and U.S. Air Force Second Lieutenant Kat Lundeberg. "Finding other individuals who have taken an oath to commit themselves to service and to our country is a great feeling."
“They were always checking in on me, encouraging me to stick with it, and ensuring me that it would be worth it in the end,” said Heitzman. When she was accepted into the HPSP program, she asked Castro to preside over her commissioning.
“I was surprised when she asked me,” said Castro, “but when she told me that she felt like I was mentor to her throughout this process, I felt honored.” Castro, like Heitzman, is one of 19 PNWU students in the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), which offers prospective military physicians (M.D. or D.O.), dentists, nurse practitioners, optometrists, psychologists, pharmacists, and veterinarians a paid medical education in exchange for service as a commissioned medical department officer. The program covers up to 98.83% of PNWU’s medical school tuition.
“Debt is an issue that people talk about constantly,” said fellow-HPSP student Katie Heiss. “It’s nice to know that — when you dedicate yourself to the country and to the vision you have for yourself — there’s a path to do it without soul-crushing debt.”
“Medical school has already pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Heitzman, reflecting on her commitment. "I think the military will push me even more to level up. I’ve already taken the higher road — the road less traveled — by becoming a doctor. I’m setting myself apart and pushing myself to a new level by joining the military and seeing the opportunities and growth that come with that. I don’t really know what to expect yet, but I’m excited to go out and see all the things that I can see.”