November 11, 2022
When Oren Morgan, a nine-year U.S. Army veteran, arrived on campus as a transfer student last year, he came with a great sense of motivation. He knew was representing so many people who weren’t able to make it as far, and he wanted to help solve some of the pervasive struggles he’d witnessed within 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.”
Oren came to UCLA and entered the neuroscience major as a pre-med student. 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. At the time, a number of pre-health student clubs existed on campus, but there were none specifically for student veterans. Student veterans are not typical pre-health undergraduates, and experience had shown him that a dedicated, student-veteran group could make a world of difference in their success.
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 who could focus on veteran healthcare, and find 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.
The Pre-Health Program for Military-Connected Students now has 48 military-connected students participating in the program, and it 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.