2016 Tillman Scholar

Sangki Oak

University of Pittsburgh

“At the end of the day the fight is for those next to you in combat and for the people of the world.”

The path that led Sangki to the military was a somewhat serendipitous journey.  At the time of the events on 9/11, he was working as a computer engineer in Silicon Valley. Although he felt a strong call to serve in the aftermath of the attacks, he was unsure if he was too old and ingrained as an engineer to enlist. One morning though, he picked up the newspaper and read a story about an NFL football player who was walking away from a multi-million dollar contract to serve with the Army Rangers.  Soon after, the excuses that held him back quickly faded away.  

Fast-forward through years of training, Sangki found himself in the dusty hills of northwestern Afghanistan as the senior medic for a team of U.S. Marines. There, a large portion of the team’s efforts were focused on improving the governance, development, and health of the population.  It was during that deployment, seeing sick and injured locals, drinking many cups of tea with village elders, and helping to improve health infrastructure, that Sangki developed a passion to improve the lives of those in medically underserved communities worldwide. His time in Afghanistan was his first real exposure to people caught in the crossfires of conflict. His position as a medic, as well as the team member in charge of aid and development efforts for the local population, familiarized him with the needs and struggles of others in some of the most remote parts of the world.

Since leaving the military, his passion for medicine has been reinforced by visits with Syrian refugees near the border of Iraq to document the disposition of their camps, as well as by providing medical care to those affected by the earthquake in Nepal. Spurred by these collective experiences, he wants to not only provide medical care to people in areas medically underserved due to their austere or dangerous location, but also expand the health infrastructure of their communities. As he continues his journey through medical school, he credits the military with providing him the temperament and skills to operate in these harsh and remote places, the capability to work effectively both within a team and independently, and the aptitude to develop solutions with limited resources.