Air Force Medic Veteran Thriving As Biology Major

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After almost a decade as an Air Force medic, biology major Carmela Dizon ’23 enrolled at Dominican University of California with an impressive resume and the determination to earn an undergraduate degree in biology and then enter a Physician Assistant program.

Military tuition assistance from the Yellow Ribbon program and the post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) is helping to support this goal.

Dominican has been on Carmela’s radar for more than 12 years. When she was a senior at Elk Grove High School searching colleges, Carmela said Dominican stood out in terms of location, size, and academics.

“I knew that I would get a great education because of Dominican’s reputation, and I liked that it was a smaller school where I would get to know my professors, which I knew was really important,” she says.

Carmela was accepted into the nursing program but decided to attend community college first in order to start saving  for her bachelor’s degree. After two years studying nursing at community college, Carmela entered the Air Force, selecting to work as a medical assistant.

The work took her across the country – from Langley Air Force base in Virginia to Nellis Air Force base in Nevada with stops in Texas and Mississippi. She rotated through pediatrics, labor and  delivery, and a variety of surgical specialties. The experiences were transformative. She learned how to suture, how to remove cysts, how to insert IVs and catheters, and how to conduct hearing screens – and often was called on to help teach these skills to newer medics.

When it came time to leave the Air Force and resume her education, many of Carmela’s physician colleagues urged her to enroll in medical school – noting she had the skills and talent to make a great doctor.

“One of my Physician Assistant friends said that because of my work in the Air Force I would make a great PA, and the more I thought about it the more I became determined to enroll in a PA program once I complete my bachelor’s.” 

Again, Dominican was Carmela’s first choice. A campus visit sealed the deal.

 “I’m a sucker for old Victorian buildings,” she says. “As soon as I parked and started walking on campus, I immediately loved it. It was beautiful and quiet and I said to myself  “`I’m definitely going here.’”

Selecting a major also was easy. Majoring in biology – with a minor in chemistry – is the perfect preparation for a Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies and a career in medicine.

Last fall, Carmela began her Dominican experience on Zoom.

“It was a weird first semester, but I could quickly see how this is such a tight-knit community of students and staff and faculty. In each class, we would all exchange numbers right off the bat. Everyone was very welcoming.”

Just as she found an opportunity in the Air Force, Carmela was excited by the research options available to science majors in the School of Health and Natural Sciences at Dominican. When she heard that Dr. Obed Hernandez-Gomez was doing conservation research on the western pond turtle in the Bay Area, Carmela was quick to sign up to join his research lab.

 “I love turtles, so I am excited about getting involved with the research and helping with the work tagging the turtles this spring.”

The variety of research opportunities at Dominican also has impressed both her cousin and brother, who attend a large public university in the Bay Area.

“They don’t even have this option to get involved with research as undergraduates,” she says. “I was telling them about the rotation focused on computational science with Dr. Hall. My brother was so impressed – and jealous! He said ‘you have the opportunity to do that … that’s so unfair.’”

Carmela remains thankful that the Air Force provided not only hands-on experiences but also professional contacts and funding for her to earn her bachelor’s degree. Her Dominican classmates – many at least a decade younger – are intrigued about Carmela’s military background.

“It is nice to share my experiences with them and – at the same time – to realize that I made the right decision not coming to Dominican right away after graduating from high school. I did what I needed to do to come to the decision to come to Dominican – and it has been a great decision.”

Dominican is among the California colleges that accept the GI Bill and participate in the Yellow Ribbon program. In recent years, the University has seen an increase in the number of students who are both veterans or military dependents. For additional information regarding Veteran Services, contact Dominican’s School Certifying Official at or call (415) 257-1350. For more information about the DUSVO or the Veteran Services Office, email

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