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Veteran of Iraq War pursuing career in emergency medicine

Thirteen years to the day that 19-year-old soldier Elizabeth Caudill wrestled with fear as she waited in a convoy at the Kuwait/Iraq border for the invasion of Iraq to begin, she rejoiced at news of her next deployment — the emergency medicine residency at Wake Forest Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Caudill, CMS '16, who spent five years on active duty with the U.S. Army, including two tours of Iraq, joined thousands of fourth-year medical students throughout the United States in the March 18 celebration of Match Day, a rite of passage that reveals how and where they will spend the next three-to-five years of residency training.

“I’m super excited to make it through medical school and take on the next challenge,” said Caudill, who spent the early weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom working in intelligence.

“The military made me a lot tougher," she said. "Now, when I approach a challenge, I don’t wonder if I’m up to it. That’s not even a question in my mind. It’s just a matter of mental toughness. That’s what gets me through.”

One of 186 CMS students who matched at top residency programs around the country, Caudill is a native of Michigan but grew up in Florida after her father died when she was 4. While her grandfather on the Michigan side of the family was a doctor, she didn’t consider a career in medicine until she indulged her love for science at the University of Central Florida, where she graduated magna cum laude.

She experienced a difficult transition to college after all that she had seen and experienced in Iraq — the loss of fellow soldiers in mortar attacks, interrogating prisoners at Abu Grab prison, long separations from her family.

“Figuring out how to be a civilian was pretty tough,” she said. “It was hard being older than everyone, coming back to live on my own. To go from being totally immersed in intense teams and situations to what feels like nothing is a very big difference.”

Medical school was another “starting over” for Caudill, who decided to specialize in emergency medicine after a rotation at Stroger Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

“The people work hard and play hard,” Caudill said. “The ER feels like home to me.”

Caudill sees similarities in military duty and emergency medicine. Both can demand intensity, focus, and teamwork, hands-on application of knowledge and preparedness for the unknown.

Working in emergency medicine means “never really knowing what illness or injury will walk through those doors next,” said Caudill, who notes that qualities that make a good soldier also make a good doctor.

“My enlistment taught me to excel outside my comfort zone,” she said. “It taught me to work hard, to take on responsibility and overcome my fears.”

Posted March 30, 2016
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