Fighter Pilot Forges New Career in Medicine with Prestigious Scholarship

Blog | 02/10/2015

Ed Woodward, a military veteran turned medical student, was invited to the Super Bowl on Sunday, thanks to his amazing story of perseverance.Woodward was honored as a Tillman Scholar, a very selective scholarship program honoring men and women who have served, or are currently serving in the military, and pursuing a full-time degree.

“When I was awarded the scholarship, I just knew that a lot of things were going to happen for me,” Woodward said. “Specifically, for going to medical school and taking care of my family.”

Woodward is currently a first-year medical student at the University of South Florida, but becoming a doctor was not always his dream. Flying F-115 fighter jets was his first passion.

After graduating from the University of Florida along with his twin brother, Gene, Ed joined the Air Force. His brother enrolled in USF, hoping to become a doctor.

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“He was in his first year at med school, and then he was killed by drunk driver on I-275,” Woodward said.

Both brothers were in the car that night, but Ed is the only one who made it out alive.

Tragedy didn’t stop there. After Ed was commissioned, just five flights shy of becoming a pilot, he suffered a stroke while flying. It was brought on by a blood clot in his brain.

Ed’s military career was over, but not his passion to serve. Unsure of what to do next, he turned to his grandfather for advice.

“He was an old Irish steel worker, and he just looked at me and told me to finish what Gene started,” Ed recalled.

Woodward enrolled at the USF Medical School, but going from the battlefield to the classroom was not an easy transition.

“I couldn’t muscle my way through it,” Woodward said. “The actual aspect of flying the plane, it wasn’t hard, but for med school, it’s more about understanding all of the information and then being able to apply it.”

Winning the Tillman Scholarship allows Woodward to focus on his studies while still providing for his wife and children.

While he still has three years left of medical school and a residency, Woodward already knows that he would like to practice optometry, as opposed to working in the ER.

“I think my capacity for loss is almost full, and I get too personally involved,” said Woodward. “To be able to give sight on a day-to-day basis sounds pretty awesome to me.”

Woodward still suffers from debilitating migraines due to his brain injury. He said his life experiences have taught him no task is too great to accomplish.

“What I learned through my grandfather is you just can’t have artificial limitations. Your injury, age or circumstances, they’re just artificial limitations,” said Woodward. “There’s always a way to overcome that situation.”