2020 Tillman Scholar

Todd Bessinger

University of California - Los Angeles

“When I was five years old, I told my mother I was going to be a doctor and cure disease. That’s exactly what I did.”

Todd’s high school classmates were shocked when they found out he joined the U.S. Army. Growing up in Buffalo, Wyoming, Todd was an all-around athlete who did well in school (class salutatorian) but he was a rebel. From spiky hair to unusual clothing choices to a disdain for authority, military life seemed like a terrible choice.

Leaving rural Wyoming as soon as possible after graduation, Todd moved to Chicago where he discovered a community of like-minded people but who had little appreciation for life outside the urban city. Todd was inspired by Charles Moskos, a Northwestern professor who championed mandatory service. So, upon college graduation, Todd joined Volunteers in Service for America (VISTA). He applied for medical school during his VISTA service and was accepted into two schools whose tuition would be subsidized by the State of Wyoming. But the “rebel” wasn’t quite finished exploring his options.

Todd went to New Orleans to interview at Tulane University and knew it was the medical school he wanted to attend. Problem was, he didn’t have the money to pay for it. A high school friend who was active-duty Army told him about the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) to which he applied—with some trepidation—and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1992, with that same friend giving his oath of office.

Todd was admitted to the M.D./Ph.D./M.P.H. program at Tulane, which he completed in 1998. He entered active duty that same year. In 2007, Todd left the service, finishing his duty at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii.