How the Marine Corps Prepared Me for My Future as a Doctor of Physical Therapy

Written by: Deidre Fetz

I remember the first day I went to the Officer Selection Office for the Marine Corps in 2013. I was there to speak with the recruiting officer about what it takes to be a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps. I remember the way he looked at me with doubt in his eyes and a challenge in his voice, almost like “I dare you to try.” He looked at me and said something along the lines of “a lot of people try and fail to make it through Officer Candidate School (OCS). It is grueling both physically and mentally and the attrition rate for females is around 50 to 60 percent.”

I had never felt more compelled to prove someone wrong in my whole life. His recruiting tactic worked. I signed the dotted line that day to begin the selection process. For candidates considering the commissioned officer route for the Marine Corps, we have to participate in physical and mental screening exams of which the results get put into a file and sent to a selection board. They decided my fate: would I go to OCS to be trained into a leader of the Marine Corps or would I be denied, forced to try to improve my scores and try again, or quit?

During my selection process, I was awarded the Outstanding Female Officer Candidate of the Year Award by my selection office for our region. Months later, I received notification that I was selected on my first application for OCS and in September of 2013 I was moving into a squad bay with 62 other women in Quantico, Virginia. The women in my platoon and three platoons of men were staying in an isolated training area where we would go through our next test, OCS. To say that my resilience and willpower were tested over the next ten weeks would be an understatement. I went through things I never thought I could do, and I found in myself a sense of power and strength I never knew existed.

Of the 62 women who showed up on buses with me that first day, only 29 of us graduated and commissioned as Officers of the United States Marine Corps. The attrition rates my recruiting officer told me about came to fruition, but I made it. I learned that people could tell me I am not going to make it, that I am unable to do something, but at the end of the day, I can do anything I set my mind to. The day I had my rank pinned onto my collar, I was filled with pride and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It was just the start of my career and already I had grown into a fearless and capable woman with a bright and ambitious future.

Fast forward through two more schools, several training operations in the California desert, at sea in the Atlantic, and in the humid forests of North Carolina, I was then sent overseas to Kuwait for logistical operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. It was this successful operation that resulted in Iraqi troops and international allies successfully regaining control of Mosul, Iraq from terrorist forces. I later returned to the United States to finish my contract and began planning for my transition back into the civilian world.

The experiences I had while serving in the military taught me perseverance and instilled an indomitable will in me that supersedes all of life’s hardships. It taught me to fight for freedom, equity, equality, to fight for what is right, and advocate for others. Additionally, I was lucky enough to be a platoon commander for nearly two years where I experienced the comradery of a brotherhood and sisterhood. We were a family that cared for each other and trusted each other with our lives. We never backed down from a challenge and we always looked out for each other. I have carried so much forward from my military experience into the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program. The hard work and determination, the indomitable will, the passion for comradery, and advocacy has all imprinted my mindset and approach toward the DPT program here at Regis.

The application process for DPT programs can be very difficult and tests the resilience of all those who choose the path of Physical Therapy. The process felt eerily similar to the selection process for OCS. I was scared I would not be selected; I was scared someone would find me unworthy. Just as I had done before when applying for OCS, I worked as hard as I could, gave everything my best effort, and kept my head down and eyes forward as I trudged through my second bachelor’s degree and all the prerequisites for Physical Therapy (PT) school.

I worked hard to network myself during the pandemic with Physical Therapists who were willing to take me in as a mentee and allow me to get observation hours. I refused to be told “no” and to lose my opportunity to get into a DPT program. After applications and acceptance notifications came in, I enthusiastically made my decision to attend my top choice program, Regis University.

The Marine Corps built me into a hard worker fueled by determination and resilience, and it also developed my mentality toward my class, the Class of 2024. I wanted to help build our class into a cohesive unit, one that saw each other as family and looked out for each other the way we did in my platoon. I wanted to stand up for our class, to advocate for change for the better and to develop a strong, equitable unit capable of facing any of the challenges that the DPT program would inevitably send our way.

My classmates have given me the opportunity to lead in these ways by voting me into student government as the Class President. I feel incredibly lucky to be trusted in this role and blessed to have the leadership background that the Marine Corps afforded me as it has guided me in my decisions as an advocate for our class. Not only that, but it has also helped me as a student to be successful in the classes that seem impossible (ugh, neuroscience…).

People ask me all the time, if I would do it all over again knowing what I know now and having experienced what I have experienced; the good, the bad, the ugly, would I do it again? My answer is always YES. And, if anyone is asking me (as they often do) what I think about them joining and if they should do it, my answer again is always yes. The military, once an individual joins and serves honorably, is a resource for the rest of their life. No longer will they have to be able to afford healthcare, the Veterans Affairs Hospital will always take care of veterans free of charge. Never again will a veteran have to worry about having minimum leadership experience, everyone leaves with at least four years.

The list of available resources and benefits goes on and on, including a right to a free education, but what is most valuable is the person it builds us into. The girl I was when I walked into OCS September 22, 2013, was young, inexperienced, lacked perspective, and lacked mental strength and fortitude. The woman I am today, the resilience I have gained, the perspective I have developed of a world burdened by oppression and war, and my compassion for others has all come from my time in the military and those experiences that shaped me. I encourage all others who feel a calling to serve, who seek serving a purpose bigger than themselves, to consider joining the United States Military. The bonds we make with our fellow servicemembers which last a lifetime and the person we become is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.

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