May 2, 2024

School of Osteopathic Medicine: A Military Legacy

Student MatchBy Stephanie Denning

Nestled in the heart of South San Antonio lies Brooks (formerly Brooks City Base), a unique site with a rich tapestry of over a century of fascinating history. This storied location has played a pivotal role in the realm of space exploration, boasting groundbreaking discoveries and even hosting a memorable visit from President John F. Kennedy.

The legacy of innovation runs deep within Brooks. It was home to the former Brooks School of Aviation Medicine and School of Aerospace Medicine, both destinations of groundbreaking work. It was there that early flight instruments, the revolutionary backpack parachute, and pioneering medical procedures such as MRIs and Lasik surgery were developed, shaping the course of aviation and healthcare. Today, this remarkable heritage continues to thrive at the UIW School of Osteopathic Medicine (UIWSOM), which not only shares the campus grounds of the former base, but also an enduring spirit of discovery and advancement.


The location’s history dates back to 1917, when Brooks Field was established by the Army Air Corps as an installation to provide advanced flight training for young cadets. By 1947, Brooks Field became Brooks Air Force Base and flight programs were growing. According to the website,, back in those early days, to take off, pilots would chase jackrabbits through a field of grass. When they reached the same speed as the rabbit, they knew they were going fast enough to pull the stick back to go airborne.

Ten years later, the facility added the School of Aerospace Medicine and began its impressive career of innovation and education in the medical field. The facility was at an all-time boom in the era of the “race to space.” In fact, on Nov. 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy conducted his last official act as president by dedicating the School of Aerospace Medicine the day before his assassination. Those very buildings, on the area known as the “Hill,” are now home to UIWSOM.

President John F. Kennedy

Archival photo courtesy of Brooks

Connie Gonzalez, chief strategy officer for Brooks, shared that “during its illustrious career as the School of Aerospace Medicine, they focused on research and technology to understand the effects of space on the human body and brain. Thus, one of the most famous animals to go to space, a rhesus monkey named SAM (short for the School of Aerospace Medicine) lived and prepared for his mission at this facility. After his journey, he returned home to the school and lived out his long, full life.”

She continued, “When it was finally deemed safe for humans to venture into space, all astronauts visited the Brooks facility to be medically cleared before space travel, including every single astronaut for every Apollo mission.”

After 94 years of military activity, in 2011, Air Force missions from Brooks ceased and the facility's redevelopment began. In 2017, Brooks’ 155,000 sq. Foot facility became home to the UIW School of Osteopathic Medicine and its inaugural class. The facility now features large interactive learning studios, a state-of-the-art structures lab, ultrasounds for clinical and laboratory use, a simulation suite, a demonstration kitchen for medical and community education and a 12-room CIELO (Clinical Inter-professional Experiential Learning and Observation). UIWSOM’s program is designed to train primary care osteopathic physicians to meet the health needs of Central and South Texas, particularly underserved and vulnerable populations. UIWSOM has also become home to many military-affiliated students, faculty and staff, enhancing the richness of the school’s military relationship.

In 2021, as UIWSOM prepared to graduate its first class, a group of military-affiliated graduating doctors became the first to establish their future in medicine by being matched for residency programs with military hospitals across the nation. These students participated in either the military’s Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) or the Veteran Administration (VA) HPSP, which pays the medical school tuition for those students who make a commitment to serve in the U.S. armed forces upon completion of their degree.

Brenden McCulloughSince then, UIWSOM has proudly graduated 28 military doctors. The Class of 2024 includes an additional 38 graduates who have made commitments to pursue their medical careers in the U.S. military.

2024 UIWSOM military match Brenden McCullough said, “Early on in my process of applying to medical school, I learned of the Health Professions Scholarship Program. After doing some research and talking to a recruiter, I decided to pursue this opportunity. Once I received acceptance into medical school, I was awarded the scholarship and commissioned as an officer in the Army.”

McCullough further reflected on what motivated him to pursue a military career. “One of my reasons for pursuing this route was my upbringing. Both of my parents served in the military, my father in the Army and my mother in the Army National Guard. Growing up in a military household taught me many of the values needed to have a successful military career.”

Sarah Caron, also a 2024 UIWSOM military match, credits the school with having a curriculum that allowed her the flexibility and freedom over her own schedule, which helped her thrive during her first two years of medical school.

“This allowed me to be independent and find out what study habits were most useful for my own learning, but it also forced me to become resourceful and do much of my own research to find answers and learn. This has prepared me for the future when I know I will not always know all the answers to everything, but I will have the tools to find the answers and continue to learn, which I believe will make me a better physician.”

About looking towards the future, Caron shared, “I am looking forward to educating patients and their parents as a future pediatrician. I love doing patient education and guiding both parents and children about what to expect during development or disease processes, and how to stay healthy. I also aspire to one day specialize in pediatric infectious diseases (infections are my favorite)! As a future military pediatrician, I am also looking forward to possibly exploring my career overseas as well as humanitarian missions in other countries.”

The UIW School of Osteopathic Medicine provides education to future doctors who will make a difference in the communities they serve, be they military or not, all of them hoping to contribute in a profound way to their chosen field.

UIWSOM Dean Dr. John T. Pham reflected, “We are excited to graduate compassionate and competent osteopathic physicians, taught by faculty with military experience, who will practice in all areas of military medicine and exemplify the Mission of UIW. This special relationship will only continue to grow and deepen.”

Francesca Geneva, 2024 military match, sums up the sentiment best by sharing that she hopes to “be able to make a positive impact on my patients' lives and be a lifelong learner!”