The Importance of Veterans in Medicine

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U.S. Army Veteran turned UNLV Medical Student seeks to increase representation

 Maran Shaker, Medical Student Board Member of CCMS

Maran Shaker, Medical Student Board Member of CCMS

For Maran Shaker, the path to medical school started with training to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and then joining the military.

“I wanted to get into medicine, but I didn’t really know why I wanted to get into medicine,” Shaker said. “My military experience was definitely what gave me the passion that got me here today.”

Shaker started his military career in 2010 with basic soldier training. “It was killer to me. I was never really an athlete in high school or college and now I was expected to run every day for miles and miles and do countless push-ups – they break you down so they can build you back up.”

After basic training, it was off to a 6-month combat medic training course in Fort Sam Houston, which covered some of the same EMT education he had already acquired as a civilian and then built on them with more combat-focused skills.

“They’re teaching you things that you don’t see in your civilian life like taking care of 30 people at a time,” Shaker said. “It’s sort of like training for a mass casualty all the time – they’re your soldiers because you’re the medic.”

After his time in the military including multiple overseas tours in Korea, Germany, and Afghanistan, Shaker found the reasons why he wanted to pursue medicine. He decided on medical school but wasn’t sure where to go. His family had moved to Las Vegas before there were any medical schools in Southern Nevada.

“Things kind of worked out that by the time I was looking at medical school the UNLV School of Medicine was accepting their first class,” Shaker said. “I lucked out and got my interview on my birthday and thought, ‘This is a sign.’”

Shaker got into the first class of 60 UNLV School of Medicine students, and immediately sought opportunities to get more involved in the community, which led to him and many of his classmates joining the Clark County Medical Society (CCMS).

“I saw us as students having an obligation to get involved in helping the community that had supported our class getting the opportunity to go to medical school here,” Shaker said. “One of the major attractions to CCMS for me was that it focuses on physicians and their patients in Southern Nevada, which aligns with my goals of enhancing health care for my fellow veterans.”

One of Shaker’s major objectives is addressing the representation of veterans in medicine, which is a challenge because many medical schools and programs don’t seek out veteran students. Shaker believes this stems from the issues with how they are perceived by accrediting agencies.

“They don’t actually see veterans as a category for diversity, and that is something that hurts a lot of programs,” Shaker said. “Even if you’re a medical program and you are pursuing veterans because you see the experience they bring as valuable, you’re really not going to get any points for it when it comes to LCME or any of the accrediting agencies.”

According to Shaker, the UNLV School of Medicine is one of the few who actually do seek out veteran students, and he hopes to see that trend change over time.

“The objective and goal for veterans in medicine is to eventually be able to introduce new policies and guidelines that will have the LCME, AAMC, and other organizations view veterans as a category for diversity,” Shaker said.

 Maran Shaker during active duty as a combat medic for the U.S. Army

Maran Shaker during active duty as a combat medic for the U.S. Army

To understand just how underrepresented veterans are in medicine, Shaker looks at the population statistics from the most recent census and compares it with the number of applicants reported by the AAMC.

“Total population according to the census is approximately 22 million veterans in the U.S., a little over 7 percent of the population,” Shaker said. “The American Medical College Application Service in 2014 reported 415 applicants who selected ‘Veteran’ for their military status on their application. That’s 415 of 52,550 applicants that year -- .8 percent of applicants.”

But why is this diversity so important? How does this affect the practice of medicine, and can’t non-veteran physicians treat patients just as effectively?

“It’s not to say that a non-veteran physician can’t provide care for a veteran,” Shaker said. “But when we talk about diversity, and when organizations like the LCME and AAMC introduce diversity categories, they do so to identify underrepresented minorities in medicine. The idea is to apply the same principles we use for other areas of underrepresentation in medicine to veterans, so that we have better cultural competency and better treatment for that group.”

Shaker believes this issue needs to be addressed at all levels of medicine, including admissions and education.

“Undergraduate medical education doesn’t address health concerns of veterans, and when you’re talking about 22 million patients there’s a large probability that the average medical student will encounter a veteran patient,” Shaker said. “Veterans in Medicine targets these things – the diversity aspect of admissions, to bringing veteran health care issues into undergraduate medical education and then finally integrating residency and graduate medical education programs between the VA and academic medical programs.”

To learn more about Maran Shaker’s work, or Veterans in Medicine, feel free to contact him at shakem1@unlv.nevada.edu or on Twitter @Vet2Med