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A U.S. Navy Veteran Finds Fulfillment in Health Care

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Just as Isaac Smith was taking the MCAT in March, the world began shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith, a Tulane University alumnus, isn’t on the front lines of the global crisis. But as a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan and was stationed at a post-anesthesia care unit in Virginia Beach, critical care situations are not beyond his realm.

“I remember when I was in Afghanistan and feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety the day after we received a number of serious casualties,” says Smith, who recently completed UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program. “I was very worried that we would (see more casualties) before we were able to replenish our critical supplies, energy, and space. These are the very issues at hand right now, in which a health care system—with precarious supply lines and inadequate supply redundancies—is forced to absorb too many patients too quickly.”

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and became interested in medicine after joining the Navy. His military experience instilled in him the value of teamwork. It also gave him a sense of purpose as he explored the complexities and unpredictable nature of medicine.

As Smith applies to medical school, he hopes to specialize in anesthesiology.

“I find it to be so fascinating and dynamic, and I don’t know if anything else will knock it from my sights,” he says. “Anesthesiology is at the junction of everything—if anyone needs general surgery, plastic surgery, or is in a coma, you have to be involved in all of it. It’s an essential life-saving intervention, and you have to be the approximator of biochemistry and physiology of your patients. For me, I think anesthesiology has the strongest ability for a long and fulfilling career.”

Enrolling in UVM Pre Med to Forge a Path Ahead

After serving in the military, Smith enrolled in UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program, and worked closely with David Carlson, coordinator of UVM Student Veteran Services, on navigating VA funding issues.

UVM’s post-bacc pre med program helps students pursue medical, dental, veterinary, pharmacy, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, physical therapy, and other health professions. The 12 to 24-month program offers specialized tracks that help students pursue a background in a specific medical field of interest.

“The best thing about UVM’s program is that the medical school, hospital, and the labs are all right where you’re taking classes,” Smith says. “If you have any interest in any aspect of medicine, you’re going to be able to pursue, nourish, and fulfill it at UVM. What more do you need? It’s perfect.”

This spring, Smith plans to start work as a residential counselor for the Howard Center in Burlington, where he’ll help residents with daily activities, such as getting to and from medical appointments.

Ultimately, he looks forward to being on the front lines of the health care system to serve patients in need.

“Because of my experiences, and now especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, I think the richness and dexterity of our health care system needs to be almost over-addressed in order for it to withstand modern threats,” he says. “I think health care professionals will be the exact people to point out areas for improvement and I hope to, one day, help work toward an aspect of the solution.”


Learn about UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program