UCLA Life Sciences | November 11, 2022

When nine-year U.S. Army veteran Oren Morgan arrived on campus last year, he came in motivated – knowing he was representing so many friends and family who weren’t able to make it as far, and wanting to solve some of the pervasive struggles he’d witnessed in his community.

“In the community I come from, a lot of combat veterans struggle with issues like substance abuse, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and mental health conditions in general,” he said. “As a doctor, I want to be a part of the solution to help my father, my uncles, the people I used to work with and others like them. There are so many veterans that are struggling to get through the healthcare system.”

As a pre-med transfer student, Oren decided to major in neuroscience. In classes, he loved learning about cutting-edge neuroscience from world-renowned experts. Outside of class, what he found missing was a pre-med community for people like himself.

While a number of pre-health student clubs existed on campus, there were none specifically for student veterans. Student veterans are not typical pre-health undergraduates – many are older and have had a very different life-trajectories, starting from high school and through their service in the military.

Oren felt that a dedicated, pre-health organization for military-connected students could make a world of difference.

Knowing the invaluable support that the Veteran Resource Center (VRC) provides for its community, Oren approached Dr. Emily Ives, the director of UCLA’s VRC, to see if he could help lay the groundwork for a program that would support military-connected pre-health students.

“If I’m going to do it,” he says, “I might as well leave flags flying for individuals to come with me.” VRC leaders provided invaluable support to move forward with the idea.

Oren’s dream is to build a pipeline of military-connected students that graduate from UCLA and continue on to top-tier universities where they can get the best training in medicine, healthcare and research. This would build a dream team of military-connected doctors and researchers, dedicated to improving veteran healthcare, and focused on finding better ways to relieve some of the debilitating neurobehavioral problems that burden so many veterans and their families today.

With assistance from VRC leaders – and in partnership with student-veteran Maggie Yu and military-connected students, Bryce Ramirez and Elisha Johnston – the Pre-Health Program for Military Connected Students officially launched this fall quarter.

Maggie Yu is mentor coordinator for the Pre-Health Program for Military Connected Students (PHPMCS). She is in her 5th year and final quarter at UCLA as a molecular cell & developmental biology major, double minoring in biomedical research and in public health. In addition to working at the VRC, she’s a medic in the Air National Guard. After serving 9 months of active duty during the height of the pandemic – caring for COVID patients in clinical settings and administering thousands of vaccines – Maggie is fully committed to becoming a physician.

Bryce Ramirez is volunteer coordinator for PHPMCS, and a fourth-year physiological sciences major and public health minor, also premed. His father served in the Army.

Elisha Johnston  is research coordinator for PHPMCS, and a second-year molecular cell & developmental biology major, aiming to be a physician-scientist. His father also served in the Army. Elisha has volunteered over 200 hours with California Department of Veterans Affairs (Cal Vet) and has been involved in biomedical research for the past 7 years.

The Pre-Health Program for Military-Connected Students now has 48 military-connected students participating in the program, and has hosted a number of events this quarter to build career path networks and knowledge for its students. The events have focused on a variety of relevant topics: from medical school admissions (DGSOM) and how to apply to med school – to UCLA’s Biomedical Research Minor and volunteering opportunities at CalVet.

“This syndrome of feeling like you don’t belong here, it’s something that I want to remove,” Oren says, “because it stands as a barrier for a lot of these students. Every single one of them is capable. We’re at the number one public institution. We all are able to develop the skills necessary to go to medical school or graduate school and assist our community as practicing doctors. So developing these skills is what we’re doing in this program.”


To learn more about UCLA’s new Pre-Health Program for Military Connected Students please visit their website.

Also, check out our previous story with UCLA student-veteran, Barsin Eshaghi Gharagoz which includes tried-and-true advice for incoming UCLA student-veterans in STEM. Now a UCLA alum, Barsin is continuing with research and still planning on medical school. He’s currently training in cutting-edge research at Stanford University led by Dr. Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, a physician, neuroscientist and pioneer in the field of optogenetics. Optogenetics is a technique that has opened new possibilities for studying the brain and is already showing great promise for treating patients who suffer from seriously debilitating neurological conditions.