Driving down a winding mountain road in Lebanon, Philip Wessels made the decision to not re-enlist with the U.S. Army and enroll in medical school, a move he calls one of the best decisions of his life.

As a Green Beret (medic for the Army’s Special Forces), Wessels had spent most of his adult life serving in places such as Lebanon, Iraq and Israel, and felt inspired by the impact he had on the people he helped heal.

“I don’t have the typical story of growing up with a dream to become a doctor,” said the Brandon native. “I always had a passion for helping and caring for people, but as a young man it first manifested into wanting to serve my country and protect our citizens from terrorism and evil.”

That led Wessels to enlist in the Army in 2005 and the Special Forces in 2009. As a medic, he was responsible for the medical welfare of fellow Special Forces soldiers, as well as foreign military and local populations.

He helped host clinics in Iraqi towns, assisting children and adults who had no access to medical care. “It was amazing to see how a simple dose of Tylenol or Pepto-Bismol to reduce a child’s sickness was welcomed with overwhelming gratitude,” Wessels said. “The connection that is created is purely human, and it is then that you realize we are all brothers and sisters of this world.”

The experience convinced Wessels to leave the military and pursue full-time studies at UCF, where he completed his undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.

He was an honors researcher in the lab of Dr. Shadab Siddiqi, and studied low-density lipoproteins and their role in heart disease.

“Working with Dr. Siddiqi was awesome,” Wessels said. “He is a pioneer in lipid trafficking and atherosclerosis research and I am excited to work with him again for my research project at med school.”

Wessels said his military training prepared him for making sacrifices in the service to others, a foundation he believes will make him a better doctor.

“There is a famous poem, The American Soldier Standing Guard at Christmas, that has always inspired me,” said Wessels. “It tells the story of a soldier standing guard on Christmas night, and it reflects the selfless service of those that serve our country. I feel being a physician is like the soldier standing guard. It is this selfless service that I will always carry with me as a physician.”