Army Ranger Veteran Advocates for Fellow Vets
January 19, 2022
Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, Nicholas Eltman was a self-professed "homebody," reading books, playing video games and avoiding physical activity. However, while in high school he decided to pursue an ROTC scholarship for college which motivated him to get off the couch and start running.
"I eventually found exercise to be an extremely cathartic experience, just the process of doing it," admitted Eltman, a Health Sciences major who is also pursuing a minor in exercise science and a certificate in Medical Humanities. "It helped me feel better about myself. I was much more confident and healthier."
It's not an overstatement to say that exercise changed his life. It set Eltman on a course that led him to Drexel University for a term in 2014 and four years as U.S. Army Rangers as a critical care paramedic before returning to Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP) in 2019. His ultimate goal is to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), practicing the specialty known as physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) or physiatry.
"I knew that the Army Rangers specifically offered a higher scope of practice than a traditional army medic," he observed. He had one of the best medical experiences. "I worked in a consolidated aid station, where I practiced clinical and trauma medicine, and I worked very closely with a team that included a physician assistant (PA), physical therapist (PT), doctor, performance nutritionist, and athletic trainers." This experience was foundational in several ways. He narrowed his practice focus to physical medicine and rehabilitation, which combines elements of both physical therapy and clinical medicine.
Encouraged by the military benefits, Eltman returned to Drexel in 2019. The university has committed over $20 million since 2009 to provide education to eligible military veterans as part of its participation in the new GI Bill's® Yellow Ribbon Program. "That financial independence really gave me not only the confidence I needed to resume a full-time education but also allowed me to dedicate all of my resources to school."
Eltman has become a leader and advocate for veterans at Drexel. He got involved with Drexel's Military Transition Program offered through the Goodwin College of Professional Studies. The program “helps veterans transition from military to civilian life by enrolling them as full-time students," Eltman explained. "This program is an amazing opportunity Drexel gave me; I really wanted to help other vets that way."
The student-run Drexel Veterans Association, of which Eltman currently serves as its president, supports and enhances student veterans' educational experiences and the unique challenges they may face as they transition to college life. "Among other things, we host veteran-oriented social events to help them feel welcome and included in the community," remarked Eltman. However, until restrictions are fully lifted on campus, he said that the association is "giving away a lot of swag, like T-shirts, hoodies, stuff like that to keep the interest going."
Drexel's renowned co-op education program allows students to balance their classroom education with real-life work experience. Eltman chose to complete his undergraduate co-op at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia, where he previously volunteered. He is the research assistant for the PM&R doctor he has been shadowing. According to the Association of Academic Physiatrists, PM&R "is one of the newer subspecialty areas of medicine that manages a diversity of conditions involving the nervous and musculoskeletal systems, and focuses on function, independence and quality of life."
Given Eltman's attitude toward physical fitness, he champions the benefits of exercise. He's been working on Drexel's Exercise Is Medicine program with Michael Bruneau, Jr, PhD, assistant teaching professor, director of CNHP's Clinical Exercise Physiology Laboratory and president-elect for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of American College of Sports Medicine (MARC-ACSM). As part of a global health initiative managed by the ACSM, Eltman and Bruneau create podcasts and videos for social media, including Instagram and Facebook, which Eltman manages.
When he graduates from CNHP in March 2023, he hopes to enter a DO program, perhaps with a subspecialty in sports medicine. Eltman has forged a unique path encompassing all his interests and experience.