November 09, 2017

Ben Otte: Cultivating a life of service

Veterans find a new mission in medical school

An Air Force veteran attends medical school at University of Michigan

M2 Ben is one of approximately 70% of the non-traditional students at the University of Michigan Medical School who have taken at least one gap year before starting medical school. More specifically, Ben is a veteran, husband and father. Here he answers a few questions about his time in the military, the people who inspired him to pursue medicine, and how he plans to serve his patients and country in the future.

How did your experience in the military prepare you for med school?

I really enjoyed the years I spent in the military prior to medical school. I gained invaluable leadership training and experiences while serving with wonderful people. I had opportunities to live abroad and interact with people from diverse backgrounds and gain a broader worldview that will help me as I interact with future patients.

My previous career as an Air Force investigator provided me many opportunities to interview people in a one-on-one environment, often discussing deeply personal matters. I think those experiences have made me more comfortable speaking with patients in a clinical setting.

Serving in the military also helped me develop greater discipline and time management skills, which have already paid dividends in the first two years of medical school.

What led you to choose to pursue a career in medicine?

While I was stationed in Japan, I became a Red Cross volunteer and started spending time at the base hospital. Several of the Air Force physicians I met became friends and mentors. I began spending more time with them at the hospital during my days off. I listened to their stories about military humanitarian trips and interesting cases. I realized medicine was a career where I could find personal and professional fulfillment, and I could look back later in life and be proud of the positive impact I had on others.

It took a leap of faith to make the transition, since I had been out of school for several years and had already started a family, but I am extremely glad I made the career change and feel fortunate to be here at Michigan.

Have you accessed any resources for veterans on campus?

I have attended a few meetings with the Student Veterans and Military Medicine Interest Group. Some of the members are veterans who have separated from the military and are pursuing civilian careers in medicine, while others, like myself, are on military scholarships and will serve as military physicians after residency. In addition to this student group, I have run into multiple veteran faculty members who have been a valuable resource for answering questions and networking.

Also, I applied to Michigan Med from overseas and the Admissions office was flexible when it came to scheduling my interview. As a married, non-traditional student, I also wanted to choose a school in an environment that would be best for my family. Communicating with the Admissions office was key. They answered my questions, allowed me to make the most of my brief time back in the U.S. for interviews, and got me in touch with non-traditional students during my campus visit.

Do you have any specific advice for other veterans considering a career in medicine?

I wholeheartedly recommend a career in medicine to veterans, and if they would like to continue serving as a military physician, the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is a great option to explore. The scholarship (along with a very supportive, superhuman spouse) has made going to medical school with a family possible.