Chelsea Gerlicki gave back by serving in the military. Now she is part of TTUHSC School of Medicine's newest class of medical students.
Chelsea Gerlicki’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Before emigrating to Chicago,
Josef and Carol Gerlicki along with their three children were in a concentration camp.
They would suffer the atrocities of the camps and the death of their son. After settling
in the U.S, they grew their family with another son and daughter. That son was Chelsea’s
father Joseph, who would grow up to be a police officer.
“Because of our history, service was definitely a big part of my family,” Chelsea said. “My grandfather was in the Royal Yugoslav Navy in Europe before coming to the U.S. When it came time for me to start college my dad suggested I also go into a life of service. So right after school, I joined the military. I chose the Navy because that is what Granddad did. I was very close to him growing up.”
In 2010, Chelsea served as a corpsman, which is the Navy's version of a medic, and the only enlisted corps in the entire military. She later specialized as a surgical technologist and was stationed in San Diego at the Naval Medical Center.
In 2013, Chelsea deployed to Afghanistan as an individual augmentee in the U.S. Army. The
Army took a medical team of eight from the Navy Medical Center where they served as a combat action support hospital (CASH). Chelsea said the unit was very similar to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH).
“We were an eight-person medical team and a combat action support team, but we did anything from daily clinical care from people who got sick and those who were in accidents to helping with people who were in IED explosions or had gunshot wounds. We did it all with just the eight of us.”
The experience in the war zone was frightening and new for Chelsea but by the end, the camaraderie of the military family was a strong one. Chelsea was the recipient of a Combat Meritorious Promotion, the U.S. Army Commendation Medal and the U.S. Navy Achievement Medal.
After her military service, she began her journey to continue service to others, but this time as a physician. Her involvement in the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP) would lead her to the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. Her husband Christopher Johnston was interviewing for the Veterans to BSN School of Nursing program in Lubbock, Texas, when Chelsea decided to stop in the TTUHSC JAMP office. That experience led her to want to be a part of the TTUHSC School of Medicine.
Chelsea received her white coat on Friday afternoon and is part of the class of 2023.
“One of the students said, ‘What people love about TTUHSC medical students is that
our students come out the most compassionate doctors.’ And that's what really matters.
To me, that's really important, because my dad always told me its the biggest thing
in life to learn. As long as you have compassion, you'll be okay in life. The close-knit
medical school family reinforced that.”
Chelsea received the Tillman Scholar Award, a scholarship that states “their scholars have a proven track record of dedication and perseverance and they believe their best years of service are still ahead of them.” The scholarship honors Pat Tillman, a former professional football player who placed his NFL career on hold to enlist in the U.S. Army. Tillman was killed in service in Afghanistan in 2004. The scholarship is only allowed for veteran or active duty veterans and spouses of veteran or active duty.
“Tillman felt like he needed to serve and he was also an intelligent person graduating summa cum laude,” Chelsea said. “He had a passion to learn. So, it's incredibly humbling to be considered part of this group.”