Sept. 11, 2001 was a life-changing day for all Americans.
But for second-year medical student Andrew Warner, 30, watching those airplanes crash into the Twin Towers awakened something inside that he couldn’t ignore.
"I was attending Miami University, getting my undergraduate degree in education,” he says. "After 9/11, I decided I needed to serve my country before I served my own interests so I postponed my degree and enlisted in the United States Army.”
Warner had his sights set on working alongside what he called, "those warfighters at the tip of the spear.”
He enlisted as an 18X, an experimental specialty that, contingent upon successful completion of basic infantry training, jump school, Special Forces Assessment Selection, and the Special Forces Qualification course (SFQC), a person directly becomes a Special Forces operator known as a Green Beret.
"The SFQC, or Q-course, is one of the longest and most difficult military courses in the world— not just physically but also mentally,” he says. "When I went through, it took a minimum of 18 months if a person already spoke a foreign language fluently; if not, between four and six months are added for language training. I requested Arabic, a category 3 language that has the same complexity and difficulty to learn as Mandarin Chinese. After only six months, I had mastered reading, writing and speaking Arabic.”
Warner completed the Q-course as a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant 18C—"Some refer to this as ‘explosive experts’ or ‘demo-guys,’” he says—and joined the ranks of the Military Special Forces operators with Fifth Special Forces Group (A), Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
He was deployed multiple times to various locations within the Middle East. At various times, he and his team lived and operated among the local national population.
"The operational and mission tempo is grueling, and you get put through some very damaging and hostile scenarios,” he says. "I endured a lot … Guys get shot, stabbed, bitten, blown up by RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) … I even fell from a wall that was more than 22 feet tall while on a mission. But despite all of the things that happened to me, I grew to love the people, culture and the time I spent in the Middle East. I had never experienced such a genuine group of people as a whole.
"Yeah, there are some dangerous sometimes even hostile people, but isn’t that true of every nation in the world?”
Warner says during the time he was with the Special Forces Group, there was a need for additional Special Forces medics.
"As a result of this, I did some additional combat medicine training with my team,” he says. "It was this training and the use of these medical skills on deployments that planted the seed for my desire to become a physician.”
He returned from his last deployment and left the military in July 2007. With his new career in mind, he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. Part of what drew him to Cincinnati was that his girlfriend at the time—now wife—was completing her PharmD degree at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy. In addition, UC is world-renowned for its trauma program and faculty.
"I was very interested in the UC College of Medicine, and I had ties in Cincinnati,” he says.
Warner finished his bachelor’s degree at UC in 29 months and began as a first-year medical student in 2010.
But after all he witnessed and experienced overseas, it wasn’t easy for Warner to jump into the stress of medical school.
"I had some post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues that made the transition rough, but I worked through them,” he says. "Now, I’m in my second year, and I’m doing well.
"Really, I think that my experiences with PTSD and my work around the world with people of all different cultures and creeds—away from academia—helped me to better understand people and the art of medicine. I feel like I have a closer connection with patients. I have a lot to learn about the science of medicine, but I really enjoy the application of medical knowledge and my interactions with patients. ”
Warner has not decided which track of medicine he wants to pursue, although he’s enjoying geriatric medicine through his work with the Longitudinal Primary Care Clerkship.
"The LPCC has been a fantastic way for me and other students to get the foundation of what medicine truly is,” he says. "My preceptor, Dr. Barry Brook, is phenomenal, and I love all of the patient interaction I witness through this training.”
Warner adds that he is considering work at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center, thanks to inspiration from Laura Wexler, MD, or with an emergency medicine or trauma division.
In fact, Warner made a special connection with physicians and faculty from UC’s department of surgery and the trauma division far away from Cincinnati, long before he was a student.
"I actually met Dr. (Jay) Johannigman, director and faculty member of the division of trauma and critical care, on one of my deployments,” he says. "We were dropping off a wounded soldier for treatment, and we just made a connection. He and Dr. (Warren) Dorlac have become great mentors of mine.
"Honestly, I don’t know where I’ll be after medical school,” he continues. "The quote I always use is, ‘Don’t let medicine define your life. Instead, define your life divorced from medicine; allow it to be a part of what makes your life remarkable, not the defining characteristic of it.’ I want medicine to help me achieve my life goals—whether it’s educating a patient or new and upcoming student physicians. In medicine, you’re always learning and always teaching—it’s what I love about the medical profession.”
And as for being a veteran, Warner says he wouldn’t trade his experiences for anything.
"Everything good and everything bad that happened during my time in the military has, in a very integral way, shaped how I view my life today and in the future,” he says. "It was one of the best things I’ve done with my life. It has made me who I am today.”