John Rimmer, NYITCOM OSHA Compliance Officer and veteran Edwin Pagan, Jill Wruble, Eric Serpico, Robert Blue, NYITCOM student Charles Kim, NYITCOM Associate Professor and Associate Dean Bill Blazey, and Marsha Alexander
On November 10, a panel of distinguished alumni from the College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), including current and former military physicians, gathered in Riland Auditorium on the Long Island campus to discuss compassion and care for veterans and active service members.
Speaking to students from NYITCOM-Long Island and NYITCOM-Arkansas, alumni shared their experiences in witnessing and treating the unique healthcare challenges that veterans face. They also imparted lessons about the tremendous responsibilities that come with being a physician in the military.
For example, as one alumnus stated, osteopathic physicians, who are sworn into the medical field with the Hippocratic Oath, are thereby sworn to caring for all those in need. In battle, this includes caring for American soldiers and wounded enemies. In addition, as several alumni noted, all physicians, regardless of whether they treat active military members or veterans who have already completed their service, should consider the trauma and events these patients may have witnessed, which can influence their healthcare decisions.
Multiple alumni chose to pursue a life of service, either as military physicians or civilian physicians treating military members, because of national events like September 11 and the elementary school shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn. One alumna recalled enlisting amidst the anti-military sentiment of the post-Vietnam War era, sharing how she answered the call to serve something larger than herself despite disapproval from her peers.
Many of the students who attended the event are also answering the call by committing to military service through the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). The program’s scholarships are offered through the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force and pay tuition and stipends for medical students who agree to serve after graduation. In NYITCOM’s last four graduating classes alone, the medical school graduated 45 HPSP students, as well as others in the U.S. Army Reserve. They follow in the footsteps of many illustrious NYITCOM alumni military physicians who were also once HPSP students, including White House Physician Kevin O’Connor (D.O. ’92).
Before the panel discussion, Shane Speights, D.O., site dean of NYITCOM-Arkansas, who enlisted as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve later in life, poignantly reflected on his decision. Speights, who came from humble beginnings and grew up in a small town in rural Arkansas, emphasized that the opportunities afforded to him—including attending college and medical school and later becoming the first osteopathic medical school dean in the state of Arkansas—were all made possible because of the sacrifices of those who served.
“Those things just don’t happen anywhere, and they can’t happen in any country. They happen [in the United States] because of the blanket of freedom that we live under and the fact that we have so many different opportunities to be able to go after our dreams and our desires,” said Speights. “I recognize that there are men and women all across the country and all across the world that stand on that wall for us each day and allow us to have those freedoms not only for ourselves but for our families.”
President Hank Foley, Ph.D., also expressed his gratitude for all of New York Tech’s veterans, noting the university’s efforts to provide resources, support, and specialized services to help veterans transition to civilian life and achieve their academic and career goals.
The alumni panel included:
- Catherine Tolvo (D.O. ’11) is a board-certified pediatrician and assistant professor at NYITCOM who completed her residency in pediatrics at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., in 2014. Tolvo went on to serve as an active-duty pediatrician at Dover Air Force Base (Del.) before transferring to the Connecticut Air National Guard in 2018, where she serves as the sole pediatrician, flight surgeon, and chief of clinical services.
- John Rimmer (D.O. ’05), a dual board-certified emergency physician and internist, was a first-year NYITCOM student at the time of the September 11 attacks. While completing simultaneous emergency medicine and internal medicine residencies at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, N.Y., Rimmer was commissioned as an Officer in the United States Navy Reserves. Today, he serves as the system chief medical officer of Carepoint Health System in Hudson County, N.J.
- Eric J. Serpico (D.O. ’14) is a board-certified psychiatrist and lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, who attended NYITCOM as an ensign in the Navy Reserve via the HPSP. The events of Sandy Hook, which occurred when Serpico was an NYITCOM student, led him to pursue a specialty in psychiatry. He completed his internship at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth before serving as a staff psychiatrist at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan. He was deployed to Cuba from 2020-2021. Today, he serves as a staff psychiatrist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University College of the Health Sciences.
- Jill Wruble (D.O. ’87) served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, including a tour as a general medical officer at the 43rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Camp Humphreys, Korea. Wruble completed her internship and diagnostic radiology residency at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and two fellowships in body imaging at the Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins Medical Centers. She retired from the Army with the rank of major. Today, Wruble is a diagnostic radiologist at the University of Connecticut, where she serves as associate director of the radiology residency.
- Marsha Alexander (D.O. ’02) is a clinical psychiatrist with expertise in post-traumatic disorder and vast experience serving veterans and victims of 9/11. Alexander, who was an NYITCOM student when the World Trade Center was attacked, completed her psychiatry residency at North Shore University Hospital and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at Long Island Jewish Hospital. She has served as a consultant to the Stony Brook World Trade Center Health and Wellness Program and has treated military members at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
- Robert Blue (D.O. ’14), stationed in Biloxi, Miss., is a surgeon in the U.S. Air Force. After graduating from NYITCOM, he pursued his post-graduate education at Keesler Medical Center (Miss.), completing a fellowship in surgical research in 2016 and a general surgery residency in 2020. He is the product line chair of operative services for the National Capital Region, Defense Health Network 7, chief of surgery at Malcolm Grow Medical Clinics and Surgery Center, and a member of the Air Force ground surgical team, a six-member team poised to provide emergent surgical care in the event of a domestic disaster.
Following the event, NYITCOM presented the speakers with trophies commemorating their participation in the day’s panel.