Class of 2022: A match made in Army Greens
A Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student follows a military path to marriage and a residency program.
One of the most nerve-wracking periods for medical school students is when they are preparing to apply to residency programs. The residency match process determines where they live for the foreseeable future (and if a significant other will live there too), what their program specialty will be, and the direction of their career.
For some, the most important step is meticulously whittling down well-researched lists of the best teaching hospitals for their preferred specialty. For others, it may be wordsmithing a CV and personal statement countless times to clearly demonstrate four years of intensive medical training and a lifetime’s worth of experiences. Still for others, getting measured and confidently fitted for a new blue interview suit makes all the difference.
For Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student Dawn Wright Ullmann, the most critical moment to ensure she secured her dream residency was saying the two words she will remember for the rest of her life. It was when she said “I do” in a non-descript townhouse in Springfield, Virginia.
“In the military, you have to be married in order to be eligible for a couples match. Andy [Ullmann] and I were engaged, but the residents told us we needed to do it before we applied to residencies if we had any hope to match together,” Dawn said. “So I found someone online who would perform it, and we got married in a living room on a Friday in between clinic and didactics. We went back to didactics and an orthopedics networking event that night!”
That may seem abrupt, but everything seems to happen on a slightly different timeline for military medical students.
A native of Suffolk from a military family, Dawn attended Virginia Tech as an undergraduate majoring in clinical neuroscience. She participated in a class that shadowed neurosurgeons at Carilion Clinic. The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) quickly became her top medical school choice.
“After taking the MCAT, all sorts of places will send you emails about how to pay for school. One that I paid attention to was from the Army. It seemed like a perfect blend of everything,” said Dawn, who is in the U.S. Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program that provides tuition as well as a monthly stipend with an active duty agreement upon residency completion. “Being from a military family and a military community, I knew what it was like, and it has worked out well.”
Not only did Dawn get started in medical school without incurring any student debt, she also soon found her future husband. She was on a run at the Army Medical Department Direct Commission Course in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when a platoonmate in the squad ahead kept looking back at her. It wasn’t long before Dawn and Andy were inseparable except for when he headed back to his studies at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Toms River, New Jersey, and she went back to Roanoke. There were many weekend visits to Roanoke as well as to halfway points in now-unforgettable small towns such as Buckhannon, West Virginia.
“On one visit, I took her to the same spot in Roanoke where I told her I love her for the first time, got down on one knee and asked her to marry me,” said Andy. “And then we went down the road to a VTCSOM classmate’s house, and there was a big party with her best friend from her childhood and her friends from college to surprise her.”
The couple spent quality time together during their military medical rotations. They were married during their rotation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. And they had what Andy termed a “working honeymoon” while at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington, enjoying plentiful halibut and ice cream (but not at the same time).
When it came time for residency matches, they applied early through the military program and learned in December they would be at Walter Reed together. Dawn will be in a neurology specialty and Andy in internal medicine.
While her classmates were waiting with bated breath to open their Match Day envelopes in March, Dawn led a humorous PowerPoint presentation, sharing the class’ senior superlatives. Beyond the early match, the support of the Army gave the young couple more reasons to feel at ease throughout their medical school experience.
“It’s really such a huge relief not to have to worry about finances or a loan,” said Andy.
Dawn added, “We just bought our first house! It’s been really nice to have the financial freedom to do something like that.”
Before graduation, Dawn was promoted from second lieutenant to captain in a special ceremony at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine on May 3. Dawn’s father Bryan Wright, who retired after 30 years in the Coast Guard as a chief warrant officer four, was there alongside Andy to secure the new captain pins to her uniformed shoulders.
The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine's graduation will be at 9 a.m. May 7 in Roanoke. Online viewers can watch live as Dawn and the rest of the Class of 2022 complete their medical school journeys at: https://youtu.be/EGrqoppm7gI.
“It has been such a unique experience. Being married long distance in medical school, during a pandemic has been difficult,” Dawn said. “But we are so close to taking this next step together and that makes it all worth it.”