Andrew Ripley is a second Lieutenant in the Army, and comes from a family who has served. But what made him volunteer to start his career wasn’t action or thrills – the basis was the service the armed forces represents.
Poised to receive his medical degree from the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, he will spend the first part of his career as a physician in the military.
“When people think ‘The Army,’ they think of combat, of war,” said Ripley. “But the army does a lot of humanitarian missions. Which is something that I was really drawn to. So I got involved in the military for the same reason I got involved in medicine: it’s about helping people, and serving in another capacity.”
Ripley already knows where his “match” will be after June’s commencement – but he’s still eagerly anticipating getting to the clinical setting, full-time. The HMSOM educators believe the military man will be a great physician – no matter where his career ultimately brings him.
“Andrew Ripley is a great doctor-in-training,” said Jeffrey Boscamp, M.D., the interim dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “Having a military man come through our School and prove to be such a great medical student shows how our School is strengthened by getting all different backgrounds and experiences on one campus.”
A CALIFORNIA UPBRINGING
Growing up in the suburbs of Sacramento, one of two children of computer engineers, he was a good student who leaned toward science classes – especially biology. But there were also the stories: of two uncles who served in the Navy – and his grandfather who fought in World War II and then forged a career in the U.S. Public Health Service.
It all came together in a formative experience: of helping children learn to swim.
“I always knew growing up that I wanted to help people – I just didn’t know what form that was going to take,” he said. “In high school, I was a lifeguard, teaching little kids how to swim. I found I loved the first aid/medicine part of it. So I went and got my EMT license. From there, I decided medical school is going to be the path for me.”
So as he worked his way through his undergraduate years at the University of California – Santa Barbara, a major part of his education was the school’s ROTC program, combining both interests.
HMSOM was his destination for a medical degree because of the School’s vision – about reaching out directly into the community.
Research he was involved in had real implications; it included projects exploring kidney damage in elderly trauma patients, and also the value of Vitamin D for prematurely-born infants. But perhaps the most rewarding was taking part in a sexually-transmitted disease focus group and education campaign in the Passaic school districts. It was work that impacted the scope of health education in the curriculum there.
Perhaps the most rewarding “outreach” experience was Ripley’s years of “house calls” all students provide through the Human Dimension course. He and his student partner had a series of VPs who they worked with. One was a busy single mother who had multiple children, multiple jobs to feed them, and who had language barriers. For another, it was an elderly person who had little social contact – and whose loneliness was only exacerbated by COVID-19 isolation. Ripley and his colleagues helped both households with finding health care access, and for the younger mother, some English classes.
“I loved that we got to go to the community and basically talk to people in need – and we learned that medicine wasn’t this huge, necessary determinant of their health. Access to health care was only one small piece of the puzzle,” said Ripley. “So I really enjoyed actually talking to the patients.
“We have the concerns as medical professionals, but then we were learning what their actual concerns and obstacles were – as patients, and more importantly, as people,” he added.
The inaugural cohort of students who started at HMSOM in 2018 all had their education disrupted in almost every way by the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the rest of his peers, Ripley found a way to contribute. In his case, he worked as a contact tracer in Passaic.
“It was something I really enjoyed. Just because it was all about that community engagement,” he said. “I’m all about boots on the ground community engagement.”
The diverse scope of education at HMSOM also had an unintended upside. Ripley’s father had a serious stroke while the medical student was doing a neurology rotation. The clinicians who were taking care of his father brought him into detailed clinical discussions by phone – and Ripley was able to help translate for the rest of his family. The ultimate underlying cause of the stroke, as it turns out, was metastatic melanoma. His father is now out of the hospital, his disease is stable, and he is recovering.
“He’s doing better now out of the hospital, working on physical therapy, getting medical help and getting back some of his strength and mobility,” said Ripley.
TO THE FUTURE
Ripley already knows where he’s going for his “match.” He will be doing a kind of transitional year at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu starting later this year. His ultimate goal is to specialize in urology.
The next phase of his career will be devoted to military service. Since starting ROTC as an undergraduate, he’s been on IRR – inactive ready reserve – but will go into active duty once he receives his M.D. Once he completes residency, it will be eight years of service providing clinical care in the military.
“It will be a pretty, pretty significant part of my career,” he said.
His family is still in California, including a sister who is considering a medical career herself. Ripley said a family life would be an ultimate personal goal.
For now, he values hobbies like photography, distance running, and mountain biking. A true passion is motorcycles. He recalls fondly traveling back and forth to college alongside the Pacific Coast Highway for 600 miles. He never got tired of the views, or the feel of the road under his tires.
“It’s an exhilarating – and free – feeling,” he said: It’s just you on the bike, on the road, going somewhere.”