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An Officer and a Physician

Rush graduate will go on to be Navy doctor

By Omar Sofradzija
May 19, 2017

Some children grow up watching cartoons and dreaming of becoming superheroes. Sara “Ellie” Warren became fascinated by military medicine as a child growing up near Seattle watching old episodes of “M*A*S*H,” the ‘70s television show about an Army hospital in the Korean War.

Along with “Hawkeye” Pierce and “Trapper John” McIntyre, the show’s main characters, she also found real-life role models in family and friends. Her mother, Judith Williams, who passed away nine years ago due to cancer, would remind Warren, “Girls are tough.” Her stepfather, Michael Knotz, was in the Honor Guard for President John F. Kennedy. And then there was the family friend who served in the military.

“My mom’s good friend was a Navy doctor in Hawaii, and she did several relief missions on the big hospital ships,” Warren says.

Those influences stayed with her. On May 24, the day before she receives her medical degree during Rush University’s commencement ceremony, Warren will be made a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. This summer, she’ll begin her medical residency at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida.

‘We’re for the entire family’

While the Army doctors on “M*A*S*H” were surgeons tending to combat injuries, Warren will be receiving her residency training in family medicine. She acknowledges it’s not necessarily the type of medicine a civilian may think of when it comes to the military, but explains that it’s important to the Navy’s mission.

“Actually it’s one of the most highly encouraged fields in which to go into with the Navy scholarship, probably only second to trauma surgery,” Warren says. “The reality is, we are the physicians not only for the naval personnel, the sailors, but we’re for the entire family.

“So, we treat everyone stateside, we treat them when they’re on deployment, we treat people internationally. We’re very deployable, because we have so many skills. I feel like a physician in the Navy can do so much more than you might even think.”

Before starting medical school, Warren looked to merge her prior study in health policy at Washington University in St. Louis with more direct human interaction. What drew her to Rush Medical College was its emphasis on working with underserved communities, its location in a global city, and opportunities outside the classroom ranging from medical associations to work for a garden helping pregnant teens.

“I think the advantage of going to Rush is that it’s a lot more than the academics, because you have so many opportunities for volunteerism. It is very rich in that aspect,” says Warren, who worked as a coordinator at the Indian American Medical Association’s free health in Chicago.

‘An old-fashioned doctor’

Meanwhile, her initial interest in pediatric medicine shifted to family medicine as Warren completed her medical rotations.

“I just ended up loving that idea of family medicine and being kind of an old-fashioned doctor … having the opportunity to be a physician through the life course of your patient and kind of see everything,” Warren says. “That’s very attractive to me.”

In addition to providing care for patients of all ages, Warren looks forward to being a doctor for patients of all backgrounds.

“The Navy is like a microcosm of the country,” she says. “It’s more and more diverse than it’s ever been, so you have to know how to interact with different people and how to talk to different people.”

She was able to hone that cultural sensitivity at Rush.

“They say, wherever you go to medical school you get a similar amount of training,” Warren says. “It’s more so the extras,” like volunteer opportunities, Rush’s relationships with local hospitals, and the diverse communities the Rush serves that make a Rush education distinct.

“Those are things you might not have at another school and that really benefit you,” Warren says. “I think that’s kind of the essence of good medicine.

“I’ve lived in different places, but it’s always good with the volunteer experience to gain more knowledge about different groups of people and what their unique health challenges might be.”

The sky’s the limit

Warren hopes to be a pacesetter for other medical students balancing their Rush studies with armed forces ambitions. She has been training for her military stint since her first year of medical school, which is also helping pay for medical school through the military’s Health Professions Scholarship Program, she said.

“I was the only military person in my medical school class, so I really had to be an advocate for myself,” Warren says. “But I also want to make it easier for military folks coming after me in medical school at Rush.

“If I raise awareness about it, it only makes the school more cognizant that we might have slightly different needs and helps the students coming after me.”

Once in the Navy, Warren is considering expanding her training to include flight surgery, which would include pilot training. She’s excited about what surprises the future may hold.

“You miss out on the cool stuff if you never take chances,” Warren says. “I try to push myself to see what else is out there and develop my career.”