Welcome back to the 2021 Tillman Scholars Spotlight! Each week, we highlight a few of the remarkable veterans and military spouses from our 2021 scholar class. These 60 individuals continue to embrace service beyond self in a variety of fields, from diversity and inclusion to medical breakthroughs, to make an impact and create a better tomorrow.
Today, we’re focusing on scholars pursuing impacts in medicine. With the values of Pat Tillman instilled in them and through leadership development, scholarships, and the support of a global community, they’re furthering their capabilities to become leaders in their individual impact areas.
Zach West, Stanford University
“AS A PA, I ASPIRE TO BE A LEADER AND EDUCATOR; AS A WRITER, I WANT TO BROADEN THE PUBLIC’S UNDERSTANDING OF PAS THROUGH TELLING COMPELLING STORIES.”
Zach’s path to medicine was anything but conventional. After studying history and philosophy in college, he taught English in Germany, sold rare books on Madison Avenue, and worked as an editor and writer. But he felt that a deeper sense of purpose was eluding him. After reading a book on the Green Berets, he decided to enlist and pursue the arduous path to becoming a Special Forces medic. While applying to school, Zach worked as a paramedic in Manhattan—where, in spring 2020, he found himself on the front lines of a devastating pandemic. As the city’s 911 call volume reached unprecedented heights, he worked long hours trying to save his fellow New Yorkers from COVID, an ordeal that only renewed his resolve to provide quality care as a future PA. Zach has begun PA school at Stanford, a program he chose for its emphasis on leadership. In addition to medical courses, he is taking creative writing electives, and hopes to one day broaden public understanding of PAs through writing books and articles about his and other providers’ experiences in medicine.
Mason Blacker, New York University
“EVERYONE HAS VALUE TO OFFER, BE IT TO ONE PERSON OR MANY. I JUST WANT TO SERVE AT MY HIGHEST POTENTIAL. TO ME ANYTHING LESS WOULD BE A TRAVESTY.”
The love for medicine that Mason found in college as an EMT has grown throughout the years, especially during his time as a special operations combat medic. Seeing his teammates being worked on by Navy surgeons after being shot or blown up has instilled in him an immense respect for their profession and an intense desire to join their ranks. He’s also performed medicine in refugee camps and war torn areas of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. Now Mason is beginning his journey into a special three-year medical school program at NYU with direct linkage to their neurosurgery residency. His dream is to finish residency and become a Navy neurosurgeon and advance research and clinical treatment of mild traumatic brain injury as it pertains to actual physiological changes within the nervous system, especially chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He hopes to give back to our incredible service members with remarkable surgical and clinical care as well as the background to relate more intimately with other war fighters. He also hopes to become a national leader in neurological trauma.
Christiana Obioma, University of Oklahoma
“SERVICE ENTAILS IMPACTING THE LIVES OF OTHERS IN WAYS YOU CANNOT BE PAID FOR. I PLAN TO IMPACT COMMUNITIES WORLDWIDE BY IMPROVING HEALTHCAREACCESS.”
Christiana is currently a second-year medical student and is committed to improving the health outcomes of the most vulnerable populations by volunteering at free clinics in her community and advocating for educational programs that highlight the disparities affecting medically underserved populations. As a physician, Christiana will improve the health of underserved populations in her community and internationally by building teams with interdisciplinary health professionals that will provide patient-centered care, promote patient education and preventative health care in medically underserved communities. She plans to improve the disparities and patient experiences of under-represented patients by incorporating their health struggles into the medical curriculum. Christiana will continue to embody the values of leadership and service she has learned in the military while drastically improving the health outcomes of underserved populations.
Russell Ledet, Tulane University
“THE GREATEST HONOR I HAVE EXPERIENCED IS SERVING MY COUNTRY. NOW, AS A PSYCHIATRIST, I WILL SERVE THE MENTAL HEALTH OF THOSE WHO MAKE UP THIS GREAT COUNTRY.”
After five years of active duty service, Ledet transitioned to the U.S. Navy Reserves, based in Pensacola, Florida, while also attending Southern University. He also worked as a security guard at Baton Rouge General Hospital. He went on to complete degrees in chemistry and biology. Subsequently, Ledet went on to obtain his Ph.D. in molecular oncology and tumor immunology from the NYU School of Medicine. His scientific work focused on protein modifications in prostate cancer progression. After NYU, he began his medical training journey at Tulane School of Medicine and Freeman School of Business. Since starting medical school, Ledet has co-founded The 15 White Coats, a world-renowned organization that helps to propel underrepresented minority students into medicine. Most recently, he was able to return to Baton Rouge General Hospital to train, and his journey to do so was covered by People, NPR, the Washington Post, The Steve Harvey Show, Good Morning America, and others. Following medical school, he plans to specialize in child and adolescent psychiatry, with a focus on mental health accessibility for marginalized communities.
Lauren Luther, Brown University
“AS A MARINE, I PRIDED MYSELF ON ALWAYS FINDING A WAY TO YES. I WILL EARN THE SAME REPUTATION AS A PHYSICIAN: A DOCTOR THAT VETERANS CAN COUNT ON.”
Lauren was the first woman chosen to command a marksmanship training unit where she combined her love of teaching with her passion for marksmanship. The Marines she led were often infantrymen in their last year of service, many of them saddled with chronic pain and injuries as the result of multiple deployments. As they moved to their next phase in life, she witnessed the myriad of challenges they faced in accessing quality healthcare. Inspired by the Marines with whom she had the privilege to serve, she decided to leave the military in order to pursue medical training in orthopedic surgery. Having seen the impact of injury and disability on quality of life, she is determined to apply her Marine Corps skillset and background in engineering to help others achieve and maintain mobility and function. She is especially passionate about providing superior care to veterans, a community she considers her family and one in which musculoskeletal injuries are particularly pervasive and debilitating.
Andrea Filozof, University of North Carolina
“SOME OF THE DARKEST MOMENTS WE EXPERIENCE DRIVE US TO DEMAND CHANGE. AFTER FACING PREGNANCY LOSS, I ENTERED MEDICINE TO HELP PREVENT OTHER FAMILIES FROM EXPERIENCING THIS TRAGEDY WHENEVER POSSIBLE.”
Shortly after completing training as a military intelligence officer, she heard about a call for female service members to accompany all-male units in Afghanistan as part of the Cultural Support Team (CST) program. She immediately applied to join the program and was among the first group of volunteers selected to deploy with the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command. Following her time as a CST, Andrea joined the Civil Affairs Regiment. While serving as a CA officer, she and her husband suffered the unexpected loss of their first child. The lack of knowledge and support surrounding pregnancy loss compelled her to take action to change the status quo. She transitioned to the Army Reserve, completed her medical school prerequisites, and teamed up with Star Legacy Foundation to start a local chapter that provided hospitals and families with free resources to cope with the aftermath of pregnancy loss. As a University of North Carolina medical student and future physician, Andrea aspires to reduce the social stigma around openly discussing pregnancy loss and ultimately hopes to prevent this tragedy from occurring as much as possible.
Christopher Bellaire, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
“THE MARINE ETHOS OF SEMPER FIDELIS INSPIRES MY MEDICAL TRAINING TO ALWAYS SEEK FIDELITY AND TRUTH IN SCIENCE WHILE REMAINING FAITHFUL TO MY PATIENTS AND VALUES.”
During his deployment to the southern Philippines in 2017, an ISIS-aligned terrorist group attacked and took over the city of Marawi, killing hundreds of people and creating a humanitarian crisis of 300,000 internally displaced persons. Chris was part of the Special Operations task force that spearheaded the U.S. mission: to advise and assist host-nation partners on counterterrorism operations against the ISIS threat. From this experience, Chris took to heart the human consequences of war and poverty and the disparities in global healthcare access. Following his service in the Marines, Chris attended Columbia University’s post-baccalaureate pre-medical program before starting medical school at Mount Sinai. Chris is committed to advocating for veterans’ health in his medical training and future career as a physician, and he hopes to increase awareness within the medical community about how military service can affect veterans’ physical and mental health later in life. Chris volunteers with the educational non-profit Service to School to encourage veterans to pursue careers in medicine, and he is the leader of the military medicine and veterans healthcare group at Mount Sinai.
As a forward air controller with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), Frank integrated into an elite team of Marine Raiders and provided close air support during combat operations in Badghis Province, Afghanistan. Since leaving active duty in 2014, Frank has continued to serve as a reservist, flying KC-130s with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452 out of Newburgh, NY. The lessons and values Frank learned in the Marine Corps inspired him to find ways to continue his calling to serve and give of himself to others. As a leader of Marines, he focused on the welfare and care of those in his charge and as a doctor he looks forward to caring for those who will one day be his patients. Frank decided to attend medical school at Columbia University to continue a lifetime of learning in medicine; acquiring knowledge and skills that will allow him to best care for his patients when they need it most. Whether it is in the hospital emergency room or on an austere environment expedition, Frank looks forward to providing the best medical care to everyone in his community.