Veterans Enroll at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine In Unprecedented, First of its Kind, Institutional Partnership with the U.S. Military
This year, Mount Sinai’s White Coat ceremony, a pivotal rite of passage for medical trainees, included three veterans of the U.S. Military whose inspiring experiences in the service of their country led them along different paths toward a career in medicine.
These three remarkable service members, representing the United States Navy, Marines, and Army, enrolled in the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai through the school’s Institutional Partnership with the U.S. Military, which was formed in 2018.
Through this unique pathway, the only one of its kind in the country, veterans gain an unprecedented opportunity to apply for admission to the School unencumbered by the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Additionally, candidates admitted into the program are offered provisional acceptance with the flexibility to defer their acceptance to continue their military service to meet all necessary requirements.
According to David Muller, MD, Dean for Medical Education and Marietta and Charles C. Morchand Chair in Medical Education, the pathway provides a mechanism for recruiting servicemen and service women while integrating a layer of flexibility to ease the transition from their undergraduate careers. This unique pathway builds on the school’s popular FlexMed program, which allows college sophomores to apply for early assurance of acceptance.
“Military veterans bring maturity, intellect, discipline, resourcefulness, and problem-solving skills that we value tremendously at the Icahn School of Medicine, where a variety of voices is critical to medical education and to the health of our patients,” says Dr. Muller. “This year, we are thrilled to welcome three exemplary veterans whose military careers have led them to medicine.”
When former Lieutenant Commander Katrina Nietsch enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy after graduating college, she knew she wanted to serve on the front lines. September 11, 2001 had been a major moment for Katrina, who was in middle school at the time. “I wanted to serve my country from that moment on,” she says. She signed up to be a pilot in the U.S. Navy and soon found herself flying the C-2A Greyhound. This aircraft, with a payload capacity of 10,000 pounds, provides critically important logistical support to aircraft carriers.
Among many high stakes missions around the world, her first deployment as a C-2 pilot provided a career turning point. She was on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean approximately 400 miles off the coastline of Acapulco, Mexico, when a young sailor on board got very sick, suffering from severe seizures. LCDR Nietsch was tapped to pilot a MEDEVAC off the aircraft carrier to Mexico to provide life-saving urgent care.
“Flying that MEDEVAC mission with our sailor on board was a watershed moment for me, as it galvanized my desire to pursue medicine,” says LCDR Nietsch.
LCDR Nietsch applied to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai through its streamlined pathway to medical school for active duty service members. Utilizing this unique program, she was accepted in 2019, but the Military Institutional Partnership allowed the flexibility for her to defer her acceptance for several years to fulfill her service commitment to the Navy.
“The flexibility of the program allowed me to continue my service as a pilot, which ultimately prepared me for medicine,” she says. “As in the Navy, medicine involves high-stakes responsibility and quick risk calculations under pressure. The Navy also underlined for me that the essence of mission success relies on both teamwork and the ability to care for others.”
LCDR Nietsch, who has played sports all her life, first as a young girl playing football with her older brother and later playing varsity lacrosse at the U.S. Naval Academy, says she is leaning towards a career in sports medicine.
When Captain Tirone Young graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2016, he was immediately commissioned into the military as an infantry officer. Due to ongoing injuries from an Army Football career, he leveraged his background in nuclear engineering and transitioned to work as a nuclear medical scientist. While stationed in Landstuhl, Germany, he had a wealth of healthcare exposure under the canopy of public health. CPT Young served as a subject matter expert on radioactive material and radiation-producing devices for U.S. and NATO Forces in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. While working overseas, he noticed parallels between the values upheld in military service and those of a physician.
At the same time, CPT Young was processing some tough news in his family. “I lost my two biological grandmothers to cancer. With my mom now being treated for breast cancer after successfully battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, my interest in pursuing an oncology-related specialty within medicine was solidified,” says CPT Young.
CPT Young applied in 2020 to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai through its military institutional partnership program, and was able to defer for a year while concluding his active-duty service abroad.
“My mother, father, and step-father honorably served in the military. They introduced me to the concept of communal stewardship: as members of our immediate environments and the larger country, we all stand to benefit if each person feels a responsibility to care for the people and resources around us. Despite a dynamic change in careers, I continue to be guided by this foundational concept that my family embraced,” says CPT Young.
After graduating from West Point in 2016, CPT Mike Auten traveled to Ukraine on a Fulbright fellowship focused on security studies. He then joined the Marine Corps as an officer, serving in a whirlwind of five “very fast- paced” years throughout the U.S., Europe, and Africa. It was in his last tour of duty in East Africa when he found himself on a small base with an even smaller emergency medical and trauma unit, when CPT Auten began to explore a career in medicine by shadowing the doctors and medics in this formidable unit.
“This incredible team took care of the entire base, but they also treated the local security forces as well. It was part of our mission and obligation to provide them with care, particularly if things went wrong,” says CPT Auten.
“One night, a group of local security forces were traveling in a vehicle when they hit a roadside bomb. The whole medical team, from the frontline medics to the trauma surgeon, immediately sprang into action with a well-rehearsed plan. When the patients arrived, they found that one had been badly hit in the calf, and I was able to observe an extremely intricate and challenging surgical procedure to repair a critical artery and save this patient’s life. The surgery endured for 12 hours, but afterward, I felt full of energy and clarity about what I wanted to do next. It was a powerful introduction to the field of medicine and the rewards of helping and healing. That night completely changed my life,” says CPT Auten.
A month later, CPT Auten submitted his application to the Military Institutional Partnership Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “I wouldn’t be in medical school now if it wasn’t for the flexibility of the military pathway,” says CPT Auten. “I am really grateful to Sinai for this program and for the very warm welcome we all received as veterans. We have experienced a huge feeling of belonging with fellow students and faculty and are thrilled to have the opportunity to go to medical school as part of this amazing community.”