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Veteran spotlight: Martinez uses military experience in the classroom

Photo of Daniel Martinez. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)
Daniel Martinez. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)
Photo of Daniel Martinez in the military. (Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

On Veterans Day and every day, we stand united in honor of our students, educators, clinical providers, researchers, and administrative personnel who have served in the military. We do this through our ongoing commitment to promote a diverse, inclusive, and supportive environment at UTHealth Houston and through service to active military personnel and veterans in our community.

Daniel Martinez
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, Class of 2025
Former 7th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Pendleton (U.S. Marine Corps)

Daniel Martinez is a 34-year-old native of Dallas, married, with three children. He went to the University of Houston for his undergraduate degree and is currently in his second year as a medical student at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. Martinez learned about physical medicine and rehabilitation while in the military, observing active personnel injured overseas.

Where were you stationed/where did you serve?
“I was with 7th Engineer Support Battalion in Camp Pendleton. I deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. I also was assigned to many border patrol projects. I left the military in 2013, and that’s when I joined the oil field. It was a seven-year journey from the time I decided I wanted a career in the medical field, to when I was enrolled in school.”

What drew you to the military?
“My brother joined the Marines when I was 6 years old, so I always idolized the Marine Corps. I’m the youngest of nine. We grew up on welfare and food stamps. Of the nine children, three of us graduated from high school. I’m the first one to receive a bachelor’s degree. For me, the military was a picture of opportunity. It was how I was going to make it. Looking back now, I honestly think if I hadn’t joined I would have been dead or in prison. You often hear that, but for me, the military saved my life. That’s why it had such a large impact on what I want to do now.”

What drew you to UTHealth Houston?
“UTHealth Houston has always been my top choice. After the military, my mom moved in with me and she had a lot of health issues. I took her to the hospital right next door many times and I remember seeing students and doctors and in my mind, it was the epitome of medicine. To come here, it feels like I made it. The culture and the knowledge of people working at the Texas Medical Center. I always felt that here you have the best of the best. The doctors are known nationwide. They’re on top of their game.”

How did the military prepare you for UTHealth Houston?
“No one from my family went to college, and as a first-generation Mexican-American, I didn’t know the culture. I went for one semester before the military. I didn’t know about financial aid, and I didn’t have a computer, so I didn’t know how to look it up. I paid in cash because I didn’t know the system, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t know the customs or the cultures of the U.S., and I was too shy or too embarrassed to ask. The military gave me a sense of self-expectancy to not back away from a challenge or be shy. That’s what being in the military changed the most within me – to believe in myself and my abilities. I also enjoy the camaraderie when you get within the military. You learn to think beyond yourself. People often thank veterans for their service and giving their life to their country – and veterans do, but once you’re in it, it becomes more about serving with the people on your left and right. You learn to care for them - you’ll give your life for your comrades. You’re living for others. I think it was that selfless motivation that brought me to medicine. I want to live my life in service of others.”

What is your greatest accomplishment thus far?
“It’s definitely going to school – not just for me, but because of the sacrifices my family has made. When I left the military, I didn’t immediately start school. I joined the oil field for three years, working a schedule of three weeks on and one week off, to help my wife through school. Out of 52 weeks in a year, I was maybe home for 10 of them. At 28, I was able to go back to school. I was starting fresh because all the classes I took before the military were old enough to not transfer. We had our third child while I was in school. I remember studying for organic chemistry with my child in my lap trying to feed him. It’s been an adventure, and it’s been difficult, but I feel like the struggle is what makes life worth living. That’s what makes life fun. As long as you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Success isn’t defined by one point in time - it’s a journey.”  

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
“I would tell him to give himself time to grow. Don’t put yourself down for not fitting in and for not going down life’s path the same way everyone else does. Everything comes with time. Believe in yourself. It’s really easy to not see yourself as part of the group because you’re different, but being different is OK. Have faith that someone is looking out for you.”

What are you hoping to take from UTHealth Houston in the near future?
“One of the things that drew me to McGovern Medical School was the diversity and camaraderie. In the military, there’s competition but it’s friendly competition. People are pushing each other to get better. You want them to succeed just as much as you want to succeed. I think that’s what I wanted the most out of any medical school. I wanted to be around people who would push each other to succeed. I also wanted a great education, which I’m currently receiving. The faculty and the staff are so caring and passionate, I think it’s making me a better person. The teachers are so caring it’s hard not to want to be like them. The knowledge is going to come in time, but the aspect of human connection and relationships is what I’m most thankful for. I’m excited to treat my patients with that care and compassion that I’m learning at UTHealth Houston.”

What would you like others to know about UTHealth Houston?
“There are a lot of things you have to consider: location, social support, family, and other factors. At the core, I think medical students want the same things: culture and knowledge. I’ve told people to come here to see the difference between UTHealth Houston and other universities. You can’t compare until you see it. For me and the culture, I had expectations of what I wanted and this place has surpassed those expectations.”

Message to other veterans at UTHealth Houston?
“I think the reason I’m so passionate about veterans is that when you meet other veterans for the first time, you automatically feel drawn to them. You have a connection and automatically know that this person is on your team. If you meet a random person in the civilian world, you don’t know their motives or what they want, but when you meet a veteran you know a little bit about their history. We have our own challenges in the military. Veteran suicide is a real problem, as is depression. I think veterans can feel isolated, and we can even isolate ourselves at times. For me it’s about looking for those people and showing them we’re here for you. To say, ‘I have your back,’ and I know you might feel lost and perhaps embarrassed to ask for help because you’re older than other students going down this path. I want to help, and we need to help each other.”  

Who has been your biggest influence?
“My biggest influence is my mom, Martha Martinez. She is the strongest woman I have ever met, stronger than any Marine I’ve ever encountered. She’s had many challenges in her personal life, and she’s always told me never to see myself as a victim. She could have easily taken that route, but instead, she chose to fight. I think she gave me that fighting mentality: that when the world looks grim, you’re still in control of your future. That mentality, along with her love has made me the man I am today. You can’t make it in this life without someone having your back and believing in you. And for me, that was always my mom. She’s a lioness and a fighter. I look up to her.”

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