Before enrolling in medical school, Brendan Sweeney was a biomedical engineer who worked alongside clinicians to create better patient therapies — including better bandage adhesives and engineered tissues for healing. Now he will use those skills as an ear-nose-throat specialist caring for military veterans.

Sweeney is one of six UCF medical students who recently matched into competitive military residencies and will train at hospitals across the country, including the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Sweeney will train in otolaryngology (ENT) – one of medicine’s most competitive specialties — at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. He secured one of only four spots available to U.S. Naval officers nationally.

“I’m incredibly excited to have matched into ENT in the U.S. Navy,” says Sweeney. “I decided to pursue military medicine to be able to help one of the most unique patient populations in the world. I’m so lucky to be able to do that while having the opportunity to pursue experiences in service to the country that other doctors wouldn’t necessarily have.”

All six seniors are recipients of the military’s Health Professions Scholarship, which covers tuition and living expenses for medical students who agree to serve their country for one year for each year of scholarship. Students match into residencies at military hospitals or do their service after civilian residencies.

Medical school graduates must complete a residency program in their chosen specialty before they are able to practice. Students apply for and then interview with residency programs and rank their choices. Residency programs do the same. A computerized service then matches top choices from both. While the majority of the nation’s medical students will learn their residency match on March 18 — this year’s National Match Day — some specialties, including urology, ophthalmology and military-based residencies, announce matches early.

Other seniors who matched into military residences include Grace Johnson and Nicholas Richwagen, who both matched into residencies at Tripler Army Medical Center, where Johnson will train in ENT and Richwagen in internal medicine. Two other seniors are going into primary care specialties at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Grant Liska will train in radiology at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

“UCF gave me a wonderful academic knowledge-base moving into residency,” says Liska, who chose medicine as a career because it combines his loved for science and helping others. “We also were dealing with the COVID pandemic beginning right as we transitioned into our clinical training. There were definitely bumps in the roads and some frustration at the time, but I think overall the College of Medicine exemplified to us leadership and flexibility in the face of uncertainty.”

Soraya Smith, assistant dean of students, congratulated the seniors on their achievements despite the challenges of COVID-19.

“It has been a challenging two years for these seniors, who did all their clinical rotations in the middle of a pandemic,” she says. “I am especially proud of them for persisting throughout the match process and successfully matching into very competitive residencies at leading institutions across the country. To have been a part of their journey from first year until now and to see them take this next step in realizing their dreams is heartwarming.”