The Pat Tillman Foundation has granted UCLA medical student Nam Yong Cho a 2022 Pat Tillman Scholarship. The foundation bestows this award on military veterans with a passion for serving others and a commitment to honoring the legacy of Pat Tillman, who left the National Football League (NFL) to serve his country and was killed in the line of duty.
The award’s tenets of scholarship, leadership development, and global community will empower Cho to build on his accomplishments in public service, advocacy, and patient care.
Starting a Lifelong Journey of Healing
During his undergraduate years at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Cho served as a combat medic in the United States Army. He saw physicians risk their lives to deliver patient care, he felt the power of their service, and he found his true calling.
“Seeing how those doctors not only healed physical wounds but also helped impact the way patients experience life, I aspired to do the same,” says Cho, who matriculated at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM) after finishing his undergraduate coursework.
Military service illuminated Cho’s dream career, but a painful personal experience launched a lifelong mission. After witnessing the firearm-inflicted suicide of a fellow veteran, Cho committed himself to reducing firearm-related suicide and violence, one of the many issues disproportionately affecting veterans.
“I felt the necessity to raise awareness, and to save others from the pain of this experience, by addressing this issue on campus by promoting dialogue, research, and evidence-based curriculum changes,” Cho says.
In addition to his responsibilities as a medical student and working with mentor Dr. Peyman Benharash at the Cardiac Outcomes Research Laboratory (CORELAB), Cho collaborates with Dr. Natasha Wheaton and Dr. Rochelle Dicker in the Scrubs Addressing Firearm Epidemic (SAFE) chapter at DGSOM. He also participates in a variety of research studies, stays involved with the Veteran Resource Center, and coordinates the Military and Student Veteran Network at UCLA-DGSOM, which helps veteran medical students develop support systems and access benefits.
After graduation, Cho will pursue residency in surgery with an emphasis on care for trauma patients while continuing his work outside the clinic to advocate for veterans.
Advocating for the Veteran Community
Empathy for the connection between mental and physical health underlies all Cho’s present and future work.
Cho felt the strain of seasonal affective disorder while completing military service in Alaska. He also saw how mental-health issues could be exacerbated by military discharge, often blocking veterans from seeking and receiving essential care.
“By advocating for proper mental health education and fostering an environment of support in my community,” Cho says, “I wish to develop a culture where mental health issues are not stigmatized but facilitated in their recovery.”
Cho approaches his ambitious, altruistic future with a sense of determination and empowerment, especially knowing he has the support of a Pat Tillman Scholarship behind him as he takes his next steps.
Reflecting on all he’s accomplished thus far in his young career, Cho feels grateful for the community he’s found at UCLA (named one of the best United States colleges for veterans).
“At DGSOM, I have colleagues, faculty members, and friends who constantly support and motivate me personally and professionally,” Cho says. “On a daily basis, I feel fortunate to be at DGSOM and aspire to continue my growth here to become the best physician I can be.”
About the Pat Tillman Scholarship