Two shades of green

Marshall medical student joins U.S. Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program, trains to become a military physician
Holly Edwards, a second-year medical student at Marshall, spent six weeks training for her future position as a doctor with the U.S. Army.

Members of the Herd have been all over the globe this summer, sporting Kelly green and exploring the world they’re going to change. For 23-year-old Holly Edwards, a second-year student at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, that has meant donning a different shade of green and undergoing six weeks of intensive training in Oklahoma and Texas. She’s embarking on two entirely new endeavors: How to be an officer in the U.S. Army and how to be an Army physician.

As a participant in the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program, she’s on her way to working as a physician in the U.S. Army, with the Army covering the cost of medical school and Holly committing to active duty after her residency.

“I wanted to be in the military and serve my country in some way. I thought, ‘What a great opportunity that I can do both – that I can be a doctor and do that.”- Holly Edwards

“I thought that was a really great option for me,” said Edwards, who has had her eye on becoming a doctor since high school. “I knew, sometime, I wanted to be in the military and serve my country in some way. I thought, ‘What a great opportunity that I can do both – that I can be a doctor and do that.’”

Military service and health professions run the family.

“I come from a long line of military family. Both my grandfathers were Army, my uncle went to the Coast Guard Academy, my mom and dad were both in the Navy and served in Operation Desert Storm,” Edwards said. “I just really have always been involved in military culture and I have always had a strong love for my country.”

Meanwhile, Edwards’ parents are both nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital. Her mother, Marnie Edwards is a nurse anesthetist and her father, Grant Edwards is an O.R. nurse.

“My parents in the medical field helped me get connected for sure,” she said. “Growing up, I hurt my ankle a couple times playing basketball, and my orthopedic surgeon was a family friend, Dr. David Soulsby. He worked in Charleston and was a huge role model for me. He always supported me and my endeavors to be a doctor, too.”

She volunteered at hospitals in middle and high school, and shadowed doctors during high school. “I just really liked it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to serve my community in a way that I could help people get better, health-wise, and have a better outlook on their future.”

Having grown up in Hurricane, West Virginia, Edwards graduated from Teays Valley Christian School in 2018, where she played basketball and volleyball, serving as team captain. She earned her undergraduate degree at Marshall, majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry and psychology, also serving as financial vice president and then president for her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta.

And she’s thrilled to be a student in the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. “I do love Marshall med school. The staff is great. They would really do anything for you,” she said. “I feel right at home and am really happy with my decision.”

Her introduction to military service came with combined training sessions this summer, the Direct Commission Course (DCC) and Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC), which are combined into a fast-track program for the students in the Health Professions Scholarship Program.

“The first three weeks of summer, I was doing my DCC at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and then the second three weeks, I was at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas,” she said. “The first three weeks in Oklahoma — it was a lot of learning basic military language, terminology, different things we need to know for how to be a military leader as an officer. We also learned how to wear a uniform, how to stand correctly and salute and talk to our peers and higher-ranking officers.”

Even being raised in a military family, it was a little strange to be submerged in the military culture so quickly, Edwards said.

“I’m second lieutenant and will be captain when I graduate from med school,” she said. “It’s interesting because here we are, having never worn a military uniform in our whole life and have never done anything military-wise, and the first day, we put on the uniform and we’re walking to lunch and we have all these people saluting us on the way, and it almost doesn’t feel right,” she said.

Being a military officer as well as a doctor is probably the most unexpected aspect of her future endeavors, she said.

“There will be a lot of balancing my officer duties with my physician duties.”- Holly Edwards

“There will be a lot of balancing my officer duties with my physician duties,” she said. “I assumed I would just be a doctor for the most part, but no. I will have a lot of officer duties and people to lead and command and other responsibilities that play into it. It’s fine with me – I signed up for that.”

The second three weeks of her training this summer in San Antonio involved learning the basics of a military platoon and hands-on, field training.

“It was like what you imagine your typical staying-in-the-field is,” she said. “We stayed in a tent with the cots lined up and had a tent shower thing, and we had MREs which are those pre-packaged meals for when you’re out the middle of nowhere. You have to add water and heat it up. We also did target practice with the M4s and learned a lot of medic techniques. We did torniquets and bandaging and a lot of stuff like that. It was really fun.

“It did get up to 110 degrees out there, so we had to be mindful of drinking our water at all times, but being from West Virginia, I’ve gone camping a few times – so it wasn’t that big of a culture shock.”

Of course, there was a physical fitness aspect to the summer training as well, with each participant being required to pass the Army Combat Fitness Test, a test that everyone in the military has to take every six months, Edwards explained.

“It’s kind of hard – one event is called the sprint-drag-carry,” she said. “You sprint 50 yards, up and back, and then you drag a 90-pound sled 50 yards, up and back, and then you run with 40-pound kettle bells up and back. That’s pretty difficult, honestly, especially for all of us med students. Come on, not all of us are in super great shape.”

There’s also a test that involves throwing a weighted ball backwards over your head, push-ups, plank, and a two-mile run at the end.

“We all made it through,” she said, adding that this summer and fall, she’ll be training for the Marshall University Half Marathon, which should help her stay in shape.

She was among 300 students participating in the six weeks of training, which included future doctors, dentists and veterinarians, and she was the only one from West Virginia.

“I’m happy I could represent,” Edwards said. “I don’t really know what the future will hold but one day, if I’m out of the Army, I definitely feel like I would come back to the Huntington area. I do love Marshall and its family culture.”

She’s eager to see what the future will bring.

“I’m very excited for what the future holds for me in the Army,” Edwards said. “There are so many opportunities – where I could end up, what I could do and where I could go.”