Brandy Woods is a third-generation Veteran. Her father is an Army Veteran. Her grandfather served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam era. She continued her family’s legacy by joining the Army when she was 21.
Now, 19 years later, she’s a first-year medical student at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, and the first recipient of the new Veterans Affairs Veterans Healing Veterans (VHV) Medical Access & Scholarship Program.
Morehouse is one of 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the country and one of nine medical schools participating in VHV, a 2020 pilot program developed as a result of the VA MISSION Act of 2018.
“The Veterans Healing Veterans Scholarship is an incredible opportunity to shape our diverse Veteran-centric workforce in the Veterans Health Administration,” VHA Executive in Charge Richard A. Stone, MD, said. “Veterans represent the rich diversity that makes up our nation. Scholarships like this support our goal of ensuring the best care for Veterans by establishing the cultural competency necessary to build a strong trusted connection between VA health professionals and their patients.”
After training, will practice at VA for four years
The VHV scholarship is a pilot program that supports one cohort of students who began medical school in 2020. It fully funds four years of their medical school tuition and fees along with a monthly stipend. After the VHV students complete residency training, they will practice medicine for at least four years at a VA medical center.
VA also offers other scholarships through its Health Professions Scholarship Program.
Woods is the first of 12 recipients in the 2020 class. Just as she knew she wanted to pursue a military career, she also knew at a young age that she wanted to be a doctor. However, financing her medical education remained a challenge.
“I grew up in a low-income household,” she said. “Paying for medical school just wasn’t feasible. When I finally applied to medical school at Morehouse, I had no idea how I would pay my tuition. That’s when I learned about the Veterans Healing Veterans scholarship.”
Marjorie A. Bowman, MD, Veterans Health Administration’s Chief Academic Affiliations Officer, noted that “There’s a connection between Veterans. The opportunity to foster that connection and train Veterans as physicians who will share their expertise and unique understanding with their Veteran patients is why the scholarship is so important.”
Woods also believes Veteran physicians play a special and important role in providing healthcare to other Veterans.
Patients need to see doctors who looks like them
“Veterans understand each other,” Woods said. “We’ve been in the trenches together. We get each other in ways that are unique to military experience.”
In addition to her Veteran connections, Woods also believes in another type of representation – the presence of Black doctors.
“I chose Morehouse because the institution has a mission that aligns with my own and that’s to build health equity. It’s also important for all of our patients to have the opportunity to see a doctor who looks like them and understands their unique needs. I look forward to playing a part in building Black representation in the medical field,” she added.
“The VHA Office of Academic Affiliations provides training for over 124,000 health professions trainees each year in VA,” Bowman explained. “We’re committed to building the highest quality health professions workforce for VA and for the nation. I know our first Veterans Healing Veterans scholarship recipient, Brandy Woods, will bring her skills, gifts and commitment to Veterans to her training and her future career.”
The scholarship pilot includes four HBCUs and five schools established as a result of the 1972 Teague-Cranston Act in conjunction with established VA hospitals to meet the needs of medically underserved areas.
The participating schools in the VHV program are:
- Texas A&M College of Medicine
- Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University
- Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University
- Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University
- University of South Carolina School of Medicine
- Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
- Howard University College of Medicine
- Meharry Medical College
- Morehouse School of Medicine
Karen Sanders, MD, is the deputy chief academic affiliations officer; Patrick Youngblood, DBA, is the Health Professional Scholarship Program and VALOR Program manager.