Ryan Ziegler Physician Assistant Student and Veteran

My Path to Physician Assistant School

In 2012 I was devastated when I received notice from the Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions Physician Assistant (PA) program that I had not been accepted. Like many applying to PA school this is a common saga due to the very competitive nature of this professional education. I then decided I needed to do something to make myself stand out from the crowd for the next time I applied. In my research of the history of the Physician Assistant profession I found that medics and corpsmen from the Vietnam war, especially those in Special Operations, were the basis for the idea of the PA profession. These individuals came back with a high level of training and experience that made it possible for an accelerated medical program. With all this in mind my wife and I decided military medical training was the best path for me to serve my nation and be able to come back with a very strong application.

I was successful in completing the Special Forces Qualification Course as a Medical Sergeant—an 18D. I was living on Fort Bragg in North Carolina and it was time to apply to schools.  I sent out my applications in 2015 and received interview offers at almost every school I applied. This was great, but I quickly realized that all the schools except one would deny my request to remotely interview via Skype. As anyone in the military knows, request for time off is a request with no guarantees and in my case every request was denied. Loma Linda University was the one school that gave me the opportunity to interview via skype. I was offered a seat in the LLU PA class starting in September 2016.

Between the time of being accepted and beginning the program, I learned that I was to deploy to Afghanistan in October 2016. Hesitantly I called the program director to see what this meant for my future in the program. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at their willingness to defer me to the next class year. Then while overseas I sustained injuries requiring rehabilitation for 1 year and again requested deferment which was again granted. I finally started classes with the PA program in 2018.

I had the opportunity to meet 2 other veterans in my class and we all were surprised to find that LLU did not have a Veteran’s office or club or any group designated for veterans. We decided to start what is now the Loma Linda University Veteran and Military Club. In the first few months of the club’s inception we have helped redesign the LLU Veteran webpages, which are still being worked on, built a handrail for a disabled Vietnam veteran so he could access his garden, and are working to develop a mentorship program for veteran students to connect with veteran alumni.

Loma Linda University has given me an opportunity that no other school would thanks to their care and understanding of the military lifestyle.