FORT DETRICK, Maryland –
A Texas native who's been interested in helping people since she was a young girl, Martin started working as emergency medical technician almost immediately after graduating college in 2009. But after riding around in an ambulance for a decade – long after most prospective physicians her age had passed their bar exams – Martin decided to apply to medical school.
It was a decision that ultimately brought in her into contact with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's Institute of Surgical Research, and one that further delivered an experience that, according to Martin, completely changed the trajectory of her career.
"I guess you could say I took the scenic route," said Martin, who graduated from the University of the Incarnate Word – located just a few miles from the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston – with a doctorate of osteopathy degree in May. "I worked with EMS for all those years, and I had also done some clinical research, but I really wanted to marry those two things; I liked research – and I like emergency and trauma topics. And then I realized the best place to study trauma is the Army."
So starting in 2020, during her second year of medical school, Martin took a research position at USAISR to both satisfy her professional interests and to supplement her resume. It was a move that paid off in spades, as she'll begin her residency at the Detroit Medical Center in Detroit, Michigan, next month.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Martin's story, however, is that she is part of the growing trend of non-military medical school students using their work at ISR as a springboard for their professional goals.
"I was asked about my work at USAISR in every single one of my interviews," said Martin, referring to the process of applying for residency slots. "It absolutely helped during that process, and it absolutely helped me get my first choice in terms of where I wanted to go."
During the past several years, more than a handful of medical students have found roles at USAISR that have given them the edge required to move up the ladder in the increasingly competitive public sector medical profession.
In Martin's case, during her time working alongside Lt. Col. Steven Schauer, who serves as a capability area manager at ISR, she contributed to a research paper on commercially available prehospital blood transport equipment that was ultimately published in the medical journal Transfusion.
She also later delivered a presentation at the national conference for the Special Operations Medical Association.
For Abbie Wheeler, a recent medical school graduate who performed similar work at USAISR from 2018-2019, the same perspective applies.
Wheeler took her own crack at military medical research efforts during a gap between the completion of her undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina and the start of medical school.
While under the tutelage of USAISR research physiologist Joseph Wenke, Wheeler aided in a number of research studies, helped author several white papers and even participated in a clinical trial at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which is the same place she'll begin her residency in July.
"My final year of medical school, everyone was asking about my research work at USAISR – it's something that's on your resume forever," said Wheeler, who will focus on orthopedic surgery – historically an extremely competitive discipline to enter. "I was really made to feel part of the team. Every week we had meeting and presentations. It was a place where I had a lot of opportunities to go in almost any direction. They really let you take the ball and run with it."
From USAISR's perspective, it's a win-win. Not only do they get to use the talents of some of the nation's best and brightest students, but they also employ those soon-to-be physicians as walking, talking billboards of sorts; people who can talk about the importance of military medicine and apply key tenets to their own careers and communities.
"When I see younger medical school students getting into the field, you want to be able to help – sometimes you just need someone to throw some gas on that fire," said Schauer, an emergency medicine physician who has been at USAISR for eight years. "We can help them get to their destination. That's the power of this laboratory."
That power has certainly influenced Martin, who got an up-close view of the demands of the profession – both the physical and mental requirements – while working alongside Schauer.
"He is a beast," she said of Schauer, only half-kidding. "He cranks out way more research than any normal person should be able to. I didn't think it was possible to do the kind of work that he does, and still work as a physician and see patients, but clearly it is."
That kind of real-world impact is, in many ways, priceless for both USAISR and the students it helps push into medical schools, residencies – into the medical profession. If anything, it's a testament to the depth and power of military medicine, as well as the people who help drive it forward each day.
"If I had to sum it up," said Martin, who ultimately wants to become an emergency room physician, of her ISR experience, "I would say that it instilled in me an appreciation for what the Army is doing with their research, where civilian medicine can catch up to what the Army is doing with their research and the standards I should be looking for in the future when it comes to research in general."