2023 Tillman Scholar

James Brooks

Marine Corps
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

“Humility. Selflessness. Empathy. Proficiency. As an emergency doctor, I will lead through four traits I learned best from my Marines to improve mental health care and trust in health information.”

While James always knew he wanted to be a doctor, his service in the War Against ISIS, first abroad as a scout sniper platoon commander and then at home as a counter propaganda mission lead, forced him to seek answers to questions that now drive his purpose in medicine. Returning from war, James failed to influence some of his Marines to seek help because they were worried that asking for help might affect their service records. Why is seeking help after traumatic events not praised like completing physical therapy for a torn ACL? 

As the years passed, James would learn friends he served shoulder-to-shoulder with developed PTSD from events they experienced together. Why was he spared? And could his friends’ PTSD have been prevented? While working in counter propaganda at the end of his military career, James saw clear similarities between terrorist propaganda and COVID-19 misinformation. Why is health misinformation so infectious? And how can we improve trust in public health messaging? 

During medical school, James sought out additional training as a therapist and founded a free mental health clinic for refugees fleeing from war. He is a researcher in a clinical trial on a possible treatment for PTSD, prescribing prophylactic medication to patients who recently experienced trauma. James also completed his M.P.H. thesis on a novel framework to design and implement more trustworthy public health messaging. But James is far from finding any of the answers. His Marines and his memories of war force him to keep looking.