Switching Gears: Sailor’s ‘Job’ Is to Prep for Med School

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

Which career sounds more impressive to you: Chinese linguist or medical doctor?

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael “Paden” Smith doesn’t have to choose. He’s going from one to another.

Petty Officer 1st Class Paden Smith poses outside a Navy ship docked in Pearl Harbor. Photo courtesy of Paden Smith

For most of his eight-year career in the Navy, the 31-year-old Smith was stationed in Hawaii working as an interpretive cryptologic technician in the Chinese language. But in 2015, he found out about the Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program, a partnership with the Uniformed Services University and the armed forces that the Navy had just joined.

“Prior to the Navy participating in EMDP2, there was no other way for an enlisted sailor to go straight to medical school without having to get out of the Navy and apply as a civilian,” Smith said.

He applied to the program and was one of five sailors chosen as the Navy’s inaugural participants. He’s been a medical student ever since.

School Is His Current Navy Job

“My job in the Navy right now is succeeding in this program and going to school. So, although I’m stationed at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, I just go to class at George Mason University’s Science and Technology campus [in Manassas, Virginia],” he said.

Smith will graduate from the program with a master’s in biology in May. Then he’ll be off to medical school on Aug. 1. While he’s not sure yet what he wants to specialize in, he does know he wants to make this his lifelong career.

“My goal is to become a Navy doctor and do a total of 25-30 years in the Navy, including the eight I have now. I will be 48-50 years old when I retire, so I will then transition to a career in the civilian sector in whichever field of medicine I was practicing in the Navy,” he said.

Smith said he always wanted to be a physician, having been influenced by his Uncle Chuck, who was a military doctor.

“He made me realize that that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

It’s No Cakewalk 

Paden Smith, right, with another classmate during a lab at George Mason University. Photo courtesy of Paden Smith

Med school hasn’t been an easy road, though.

“Honestly, there were some days where I doubted myself and was wondering, ‘Can I really do this? Did they pick the right person?’” Smith said. “It’s definitely required a lot of willpower and long nights studying. It’s crazy to look back and see all the steps I had to take to get here.”

“I’m looking forward to getting to the end of it and being able to do what it was I really wanted to do, which is to help people,” he explained.

The long road continues for a while, though. Just like all medical students, Smith will have to do four years of medical school followed by 3-7 years of hospital residency, depending on what he chooses as his specialty.

“It’ll be a lot of hard work, but it’ll definitely be worth it because the Navy has given me so many opportunities,” including the opportunity to get a degree in his first career as a linguist, he said. He used tuition assistance to go to classes in the evenings and on weekends while doing his cryptologist job.

“Typically, going to school while active-duty is dependent on your mission requirements and whether or not you’re able to enroll in classes that are either online or that fit into your work schedule,” Smith said. “My chain of command in Hawaii was very supportive and encouraging and allowed me to make some adjustments to my shift so I could attend class.”

In 2014, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Chinese.

I’m sure Smith will work just as hard to make this medical career happen, too. Good luck, PO1 Smith!

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