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Testing Limits - From Marine Corps to medical school

Anne Klokow is a young woman only modestly acquainted with the concept of limits: not when she flew Marine helicopter missions in the Middle East off a Navy amphibious ship; not when she was a star college soccer player at the Naval Academy; and not at the academic challenges she tackled at the Academy.

The idea of limits didn't even stop her in the difficult days after her husband and fellow Marine, Patrick, was killed in a hit-and-run traffic accident in California.

It's small wonder, then, that the day-today obstacles known as medical school wouldn't faze the Virginia native as a soonto- be fourth-year student in the IU School of Medicine at IUPUI.

Anne Klokow

Academic life at Annapolis “was more stressful than med school has been,” says Klokow. “Here, if I make a mistake in class, I'm the one called on it. At the academy, others depend on your performance for their evaluations — it is part of testing your limits and ability to work together. Now that's pressure!”

Life changes direction

Klokow was stationed with her Marine helicopter squadron aboard a ship in the Mediterranean to support Operation Iraqi Freedom when her life changed. In August 2005, her husband was killed by a hit-andrun driver while on a training ride near San Diego. “I enjoyed being married and in the military, but when Patrick was killed, I began to think about other directions.” She remained in the Corps until 2007, and volunteered in the Emergency Department of a San Diego hospital area to start down the path to medical school.

If “I was still married and we were starting a family, I don't think I'd be going to medical school,” Klokow adds. “But life took me down this road.”

Med school “was always in the back of my mind, since my grandfather and an uncle are doctors,” she says, then laughs. “I remember my family looking at each other and asking 'did Anne ever say anything to you about wanting to be a doctor?'” The IUPUI-based medical school was a good fit for Klokow, since her family has roots in the Frankfort area and her sister lives in Franklin, south of Indianapolis.

At first, Klokow thought about becoming a surgeon, but increasingly found herself drawn to emergency medicine. “I like being able to help people at the moment when they're scared and need help,” she says. Klokow enjoys the variety of work in an ER, too, dealing with everything from “pediatrics to geriatrics.”

Dr. Michael Sha, who oversaw one of Klokow's rotations in the Roudebush Veteran's Hospital at IUPUI, believes her experience and temperament will make her successful. He recalls a case in which her “attentive care” helped a dying patient and his family deal with the impending death. In another, a patient overcame antagonism to treatment plans because “Anne used their shared military background and history of serving on the same ship (decades apart)” to gain his trust and participation. To Sha, that skill “is not one you typically find in a third-year medical student.”

“Here, if I make a mistake in class, I'm the one called on it. At the academy, others depend on your performance for their evaluations — it is part of testing your limits and ability to work together. Now that's pressure!”

Klokow's career aspirations and professional background helped set her apart for a local panel of P.E.O. International members. The group, which helps P.E.O. fulfill its mission to promote educational opportunities for women, took note of Klokow's track record and her interest in the organization's support. “Her story is compelling and so are her long-term goals,” says one panel member. The group approved Klokow for a P.E.O. Scholar grant, a two-decade-old program that supports women pursuing a doctoral level degree or engaged in postdoctoral research.

Klokow found out about the P.E.O. program through medical school sources, and says such programs “make a huge difference” for students who hope to avoid as much post-school debt as possible. “Students should always check with people in their schools or colleges, because there are a lot of options out there,” she adds. “You just have to do your homework.”

Flight training helpful

Klokow finds her pilot's background a big help in medical school. “In flight school, you learn step-by-step procedures; that's a lot like the learning we do in classes and rotations,” she says.

Helicopters also cured her concerns about living up to her responsibilities as a pilot. “Doing your best sometimes requires failing a few times,” she says. “It's what you learn from your mistakes that matters,” another lesson that echoes through her current life.

Anne Klokow preparing to board a Navy helicopter

She still flies helicopters when she gets a chance, flying out of Fishers. “I love helicopters,” she says. “You're close to the ground, so you can see things. When I'm in the cockpit, I know what I'm doing; I know where I'm going. I feel like I'm in control.”

The quest for excellence and control comes naturally to Klokow, an avid athlete. “I've always played soccer, I love to run, I do yoga and I used to do triathlons (running, cycling and swimming),” she says. “It's second nature to throw on some sweats and take off running.”

Group activities — whether athletics, the military or other gatherings — have played a big role in Klokow's life, too. She started soccer at age 3 or 4 because “that's what my friends did, and it turns out I was pretty good at it.” She loves the camaraderie with other medical students, which she likens to her time in the Marines and aboard Navy carriers.

Sha says Klokow's military background serves her well, but it can be a bit different to those around her who haven't been in one of the services. “I've never been called 'sir' so many times in my life,” he says with a laugh. “I did enjoy when another intern started to call her 'captain' (her final rank).” Sha says he was just thankful they didn't wind up having to “salute each other.”

That closeness is integral to Klokow, the daughter of a Navy man whose life was built around his service. “I'm proud of what I've accomplished, and what I learned,” she says. “The ethos of the Corps is that everyone is an infantryman first, no matter what your assignment; that puts all of us on the same level. You learn so much about yourself, and you're part of something bigger than yourself.”

Photo Gallery

Photos from Anne's military service abroad. Launch Gallery