The Reinvention of Trevor Wallace: From College Dropout to USU Medical Student

Coast Guard Ensign Trevor Wallace shares his long journey to achieve his dream at USU.

HM1 Wallace (left) motivating and educating a junior Corpsman through a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course. (Photo courtesy of ENS Trevor Wallace, USU)
HM1 Wallace (left) motivating and educating a junior Corpsman through a Tactical Combat Casualty Care
course. (Photo courtesy of ENS Trevor Wallace, USU)

May 2, 2024 by Vivian Mason 

With a history marked by risk-taking and adventure, Trevor Wallace, a U.S. Coast Guard ensign and medical student in the Uniformed Services University (USU) Hebert School of Medicine (SOM) class of 2027, acknowledges that his journey has been far from ordinary.

“Being a little bit older and having had the life experiences that I’ve had has given me a perspective about my life and allowed me to discover what I ultimately want to do,” says Wallace. “I’ve been extremely privileged through it all. But, it’s been the growth and the opportunity to be able to work through and understand those life lessons that gave me a better view of how fortunate I have been, especially to have been accepted at USU.” 

Firefighter 1 Trevor Wallace (left) with his crew from Engine 38. (Photo courtesy of ENS Trevor Wallace, USU)
Firefighter 1 Trevor Wallace (left) with his crew from 
Engine 38. (Photo courtesy of ENS Trevor Wallace, 
Wallace admits that he was not a particularly diligent student during his high school and college years. While enrolled in a community college in California, he took advantage of the relaxed academic environment by prioritizing snowboarding over attending classes.

“I didn’t have the discipline or maturity to endure the increased academic responsibilities and try to excel at something that I found difficult,” Wallace says. “Instead, I chose the path of least resistance. I chose snowboarding and socializing, hoping that my procrastination-based studying habits would be sufficient. I didn’t realize that these choices would lead to an academic dismissal.”

Wallace believes that not having a specific career interest, mentor, or goal set before starting college led to this defeat. He realizes that he was afraid to begin a career that wouldn’t bring him satisfaction. And, without school, his future looked grim.

In search of a career that could deliver the adventure he sought, Wallace joined the U.S. Navy, originally signing up to be a rescue swimmer. “I saw myself jumping out of helicopters, and having a job I could be proud of,” he remarks. However, because of a training injury, Wallace had to drop out of the program. 

However, Wallace adds that he really enjoyed learning about emergency first aid during the initial weeks of training. “So,” he says, “when I had to choose another career path, I made a request to become a corpsman and that’s basically how I was introduced to medicine.” 

Hospital Corps personnel perform a pivotal role in the medical team assigned to support Navy and Marine Corps units. They learn the basics of prehospital, inpatient, and outpatient care, and can specialize in numerous areas of medicine. 

Wallace’s first duty station was in Hawaii as an Aviation Medical Technician attached to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 – “Pegasus”. 

“The relationships that I built with my unit and the responsibility that I felt caring for them drove me to learn as much as I could,” Wallace says. Working with an exceptional team of physicians and other corpsmen provided him with great training and mentorship for his first deployment to Afghanistan. It’s where he really learned to love medicine.  

Wallace also enjoyed the relationships and the sense of community that he developed serving with the Marine Corps, as well as really being involved with patient care.

“With my background,” Wallace explains, “I never thought medicine was something that I could accomplish. It really took finding medicine and embracing the discipline that the military instilled in me to set me on the path to discovering what I really wanted to do in life.”

After his first deployment as a corpsman, Wallace decided that he wanted to concentrate on becoming a physician. His original plan was to exit the Navy after his first enlistment contract and pursue his medical education. Instead, because he and his wife were newlyweds and enjoying their lives in Hawaii, he enlisted for another four years. Wallace worked hard to get all of his undergraduate general education requirements completed, and he accomplished that feat just before leaving the Navy.  During his nine-year naval career, he earned the rank of Petty Officer First Class in just five years. However, he didn’t enjoy the administrative duties that came with his senior enlisted role. Thus, after some difficult decision-making, he elected to leave the Navy.  But he didn’t go straight to medicine; instead he chose to pursue a job as a firefighter. 

Firefighter 1 Wallace enters an overturned vehicle as he and his crew work to extricate an injured passenger. (Photo courtesy of ENS Trevor Wallace, USU)
Firefighter 1 Wallace enters an overturned vehicle as he and his crew work to extricate an injured passenger.
(Photo courtesy of ENS Trevor Wallace, USU)

Wallace served as a Honolulu firefighter for six years. There, he responded to various emergency situations, including structure and brush fires, automobile accidents, and medical emergencies. 

“I absolutely loved my time as a firefighter,” exclaims Wallace. “I really enjoyed the physical and mental challenges the profession requires. It was the best job I’ve ever had. Having a role in keeping the public safe comes with a great sense of responsibility, and there’s a deep joy in knowing that I’ve played a part in that.”

Wallace adds, “Firefighting is inherently a dangerous profession. I enjoyed testing my limits and abilities. However, the most important aspect is trust in your crew. No matter the situation, you can always fall back on your training, teamwork, and the confidence you build together. It’s quite rewarding.”

Wallace praises the Fire Service for instilling in him the art of teamwork and trust. Through his experiences, he’s learned that every individual has a different set of capabilities that can come together to accomplish a mission, and notes that the same cultivated teamwork and trust are celebrated and encouraged at USU. He knows how important they will become during training, and future medical and military situations. 

“When the Maui wildfires occurred, I was just making my way to USU,” recalls Wallace. “To be honest, I felt a lot of guilt about leaving the island where I was trained to serve. A lot of the firefighters I worked with volunteered their services to go help. It was difficult not to be there with them.” 

On top of his role as a firefighter, Wallace worked to finish his bachelor’s degree using the GI Bill. With an extremely supportive fire station crew, he worked 56-hour weeks while taking 14 to 15 credits every semester. “It was much easier during COVID because my classes were online,” Wallace says. “But, when we returned to in-person classes, luckily I had enough vacation time saved up to use for school. Often, after attending class, I’d go back to the station to finish my shift.”

Wallace became familiar with USU through one of his mentors who was a USU graduate. “Throughout my career, a few of the physicians I’ve worked with have been USU grads,” says Wallace. He wasn’t 100% confident that he would be selected to attend any medical school, especially considering his background and academic record. 

“However, what I believe I did have going for me was an intriguing story, a compelling journey, and a depth of life experience,” he claims. “I was fortunate that I didn’t see a lot of risk in applying to medical school. I loved working as a firefighter and that’s a privilege not many applicants have. Needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude when I received the phone call notifying me about my acceptance.” 

Ensign Wallace and his wife, Marissa, at his graduation from the University of Hawaii in Manoa. (Photo courtesy of ENS Trevor Wallace, USU)
Ensign Wallace and his wife, Marissa, at 
his graduation from the University of 
Hawaii in Manoa. (Photo courtesy of
ENS Trevor Wallace, USU)
Wallace says he initially selected the Navy as his first service preference based on his early career as a corpsman. “To be completely honest,” he adds, “when I learned that I was offered a Coast Guard spot and not one of the Navy spots, I was mildly disappointed. However, I couldn’t be happier now. The Navy will always have a special place in my heart, but as I have learned more about the Coast Guard’s mission, capabilities, and future growth within medicine, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I like knowing I was one of the top six who were chosen to serve in the Coast Guard.”

Wallace feels his personal path has shown that it comes down to hard work and dedication when looking for meaning and success in life, such as putting in the time, making sacrifices, surrounding himself with great people, taking care of others and contributing to his community, and having a partner/family willing to sacrifice along with him. Wallace enthusiastically celebrates his wife as a major beacon of support and encouragement who has stood firmly behind him throughout his many life choices.  

Wallace adds that his commitment is significant and the responsibility great, “along with the studying, the stress, the demands, the challenges, etc. But it’s also a time to further develop resilience, determination, and perseverance. Being a part of USU’s inaugural Coast Guard class is a great motivator that continues to push me to be successful.” 

So, how do you master the art of reinvention? Well, it’s said that if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. For all practical purposes, Wallace has rejected the old rules and has chosen his own direction to change his future. 

Looking back, Wallace recalls that all of his medical experience was primarily gained through the military, and it allowed him to see possibilities for his life.

“I saw what was achievable and understood the sacrifices that I’d have to make,” Wallace explains. “I realized the benefits and rewards of relationships and interactions in a team environment. Also, there was something growing in me that I believed could inspire someone from a similar situation or background to benefit from my experiences and life lessons.”

Wallace concludes by saying he would like to pay his experiences forward through mentorship. “I love the idea of mentoring and teaching students. I could show those who don’t necessarily have the best educational background or who don’t necessarily come from the best circumstances that they are capable of being successful in the medical profession. I want to encourage young people and let them know how exciting medicine can be.”