Serving those who serve
FALLS CHURCH, VA – Aspiring to become a physician in the United States Army, Ryan Leone is hoping to dedicate his life to serving those who serve.
As a young Eagle Scout growing up in Long Island, N.Y., Leone, a rising senior at Penn, realized that he loved helping people. He learned a lot from the leaders in Boy Scouts, as well as his coaches from his high school football and track teams. They all had one thing in common: They were veterans.
“I always admired the military. I liked the discipline, the fitness requirements, and the drive to be a part of something bigger than yourself, but I was under the false impression that the military was just made of people who fought on the front lines,” says Leone. “I never saw myself being an infantryman, so I didn’t consider it as a possibility.”
But that changed when Leone was a freshman. He learned about the Army Medical Corps from an upperclassman who was taking that road himself. After that conversation, Leone began his research into the military medical field, the land-based mission of the Army, and into opportunities to provide medical care near combat zones. He also talked to dozens of military doctors serving on active duty.
“The Army Medical Corps is the largest of the branches, has the most flexibility for specialty residencies and fellowships, and offers up more opportunities for involvement in Special Operations,” says Leone. “Everything I learned reinforced my desire to join, especially when I saw all the ways that military medicine differs from civilian medicine, traveling the globe to provide care for warriors in combat settings, rising through the ranks, and continuously training. It all felt right and led me to my summer internships, as well as to the other veteran-support activities.”
Those activities have included founding Armed, a student group at Penn that works to reduce the civilian-military divide and unite military-affiliated groups on campus. Leone began the group in 2017 and serves as its president. Armed hosts events that speak to the experiences of veterans and active-duty military personnel, and it informs students about potential career paths with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In its infancy, the group collected more than 200 public-transportation tokens to help veterans with transportation to and from the VA office, created Valentine’s Day cards for deployed troops, and held events with Veteran’s Upward Bound, Penn professors, and student veterans.
Other activities Leone participates in that support veterans include managing the social-media-outreach efforts of the Philadelphia City Council Veterans Advisory Commission to connect veterans with local resources and also volunteering in the emergency room at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, assisting physicians and nurses with patient care, communication, and transport.
Last summer, Leone was an intern with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, where he got experience in the laboratory, analyzing enzyme samples to help reduce bleeding disorders and irregular clotting among injured soldiers. He also assisted with administrative tasks for trauma surgeons and executives from the Department of Defense Joint Trauma System by composing literature reviews.
This summer, Leone is working as the inaugural intern at the Director’s Action Group within the Defense Health Agency, an integrated combat-support agency that enables each branch of the armed forces to be medically ready to carry out its mission. It is based in Falls Church, Va., just outside Washington, D.C.
The Director’s Action Group works directly for Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, the director of the Defense Health Agency. To Leone, she is a role model.
“She was a trauma surgeon who deployed and worked domestically in clinical work for several years before becoming the most powerful service member in the Military Health System,” Leone explains. “She’s a person who I look up to and who I aspire to be in 35 years or so. It’s an incredible opportunity to be working for her in the exact place where I dream of ending up.”
As part of Penn’s Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, Leone will earn a dual degree when he graduates in 2019: one in economics with a concentration in health care management from the Wharton School and one in the biological basis of behavior from the School of Arts and Sciences.
Leone’s plan is to enroll in King’s College London for his graduate work and attend medical school with the help of the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Once commissioned as an active officer, he will complete his surgical residency at a military treatment facility.
During the academic year, Leone is a residential associate in Ware College House and a research assistant for a trauma surgeon in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine focusing on traumatic brain injuries. He is also a tour guide with Kite and Key, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, the president and founder of the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative Student Society, and a varsity sprint football player with an undefeated sophomore season.