LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For the seventh year in a row, graduating medical students from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine have been commissioned to serve in the military throughout the world as physicians at military hospitals and bases.
At LECOM's campus here Thursday, 17 students received their commission into the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy while family, friends, faculty and guest members of the military looked on.
Recent controversy surrounding the quality of health care and patient access to it at Veterans Administration hospitals and medical centers in the United States and here in Florida has not deterred or diminished the desire by new graduates to serve their country. Army Capt. Sara Bibbens, 26, says she has no regrets as she prepares for a new life at a military hospital in San Antonio.
"I love medicine. I want to give back to the families. They deserve it. I hope we can shine a brighter light
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about what's going on," Bibbens said.
The commissioned officers have all benefited from an Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program for advanced health care education. LECOM, headquartered in Erie, Pa., has been participating in the program since the Manatee campus opened in 2004. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program with a stipend, plus money for books, equipment and academic fees.
In return, the students must commit a minimum of two years to work as part of a health care team at either a U.S. military installation or military hospital.
On Sunday, the graduates will be among 155 College of Medicine graduates and 120 School of Pharmacy graduates who will receive degrees during commencement at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
The commissioned LECOM officers have already spent two years outside their medical school environment serving as pre-clinical interns. Their clinical dean, retired U.S. Army Col. Anthony Ferretti, said they are well prepared to take on the challenges that await them.
"We have provided medical training to a new generation of military officers. The next four years, although brief, will not be insignificant. These individuals will serve our medical care to others. You only pass this way once," Ferretti said in his welcoming remarks.
Guest speaker David Blocker, an Air Force Colonel and flight surgeon based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, called the officers the future of military medicine.
"Whatever the environment and living conditions, we make a stand and serve honorably. Our military capabilities today are unlike anything the world has ever seen. We get them to a 98 percent survival rate, which has never been done in the past," said Blocker, who characterized the role of modern military medics as preventive specialists.
Lt. James Mazzuchelli, 29, is heading to Camp Pendleton, a Marine base in Southern California, where he'll conduct family medicine for active duty marines, retirees and recruits.
"I grew up in a military family, so that was always the plan. I have an emotional bond to it. It means a lot to me to be able to take care of this population," he said while his proud mother, Christine Cheers, looked on.
"I always thought he would be a great pediatrician or have a great family practice. He is so good at talking one-on-one with patients, and his bedside manner is his strong point," said Cheers.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.com.