When Daniel Ybarra saw Iraqi children who had been scarred and disabled by war he knew he had to help. The former Navy Corpsman had never thought about a career in medicine before his tour in Ramadi, Iraq; he graduated high school with an unimpressive 1.88 GPA. But thanks to some incredible mentors, the strength of his own character, and a scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation, he’ll be known as Dr. Ybarra in 2016. Ybrarra felt aimless after finishing high school in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. He had plenty of smarts but not much drive. Following in the footsteps of his American POW grandfather (who he idolized) turned out to be just what he needed.
It took a tour in Iraq for Ybarra to realize just how much aptitude he truly had for learning. While he was embedded with a platoon of Marines, military doctors would include him in their examinations and treatment of patients. He saw suffering that he was largely powerless to stop. But at home he knew he could find a way to make a difference in his own community.
After graduating cum laude from Cal State Northridge, Ybarra was accepted into the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Paying for medical school is a challenge for nearly every aspiring doctor. But Ybarra was about to get some much-deserved help.
He was chosen as one of five UCLA student-veterans to receive a scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation. These scholarships, given in amounts from $10,000 to $20,000 are awarded in honor of the late NFL player and soldier Pat Tillman who was killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in 2004. The foundation works with universities that are known to be veteran-friendly to find veterans and spouses who are deserving of scholarships.
Ybarra’s plan is to work within the VA system when he graduates as an M.D. (also with a master’s in public health). His skills are sorely needed; there are estimated to be more than 5,100 openings for physicians within the VA system, according to USA Today. Those vacancies contribute to the long wait times that many veterans face when attempting to get the medical care that they so badly need.
Ybarra plans to mentor students in community colleges, students like himself who may need a little help to find their direction. After all, he knows firsthand what good can come from working with an experienced mentor.