September 5, 2018 1:52 pm

Professor Barry Putman (l) and former student Sam Lyon, at Harvard

It’s not every day that Barry Putman’s students get into Harvard University Medical School. So it’s understandable that Putman, professor and science coordinator for Pierce College at Joint Base
Lewis-McChord (JBLM), glows with pride when speaking about former student Samuel Lyon, a U.S. Army Major, and now, a freshly minted Harvard medical student.

“Samuel is an outstanding example of the students we work with here at the JBLM campus,” says Putman, who has taught at the campus for 10 years. “Many go on to careers in medicine and we are happy to play a part in helping them get there.”

Putman teaches health sciences courses in anatomy and physiology, pre-med, pre-nursing and other subjects.

“We serve soldiers, dependents, veterans and civilians,” says Putman. “Many students are older than at our other campuses—in their 20s and up. They have already experienced life. Many have already had military careers or have their bachelor’s degrees. They come to us for career promotion or career change.”

Lyon, 33, earned his bachelor’s degree from West Point Academy and has served in the Army for 11-plus years, including three tours in Afghanistan. He was stationed at JBLM from 2012–2017.

Experiences Lyon had in Afghanistan helped inspire him to become a doctor. In one incident, amid erupting gunfire, Lyon’s unit came to the aid of an injured 10-year-old Afghan boy he found lying in the road, but Lyon wished he could do more.

“Our training kicked into action to get him back to our medic who could help stop his bleeding from gunshot wounds,” Lyon says. “At that point, I think the seed was planted. I remember feeling like even with all of our training, we could get this boy out of danger, but we couldn’t give him the healing that he really needed.” (The boy was successfully treated at the U.S. Army base and recovered fully).

Back at JBLM, Lyon began preparing for medical school.

“I faced some significant hurdles in achieving my dream,” says Lyon. “While I got a great undergraduate education, my GPA was not sufficient to apply to medical school. I also hadn’t taken the life sciences courses that are prerequisites for most medical schools. Pierce College helped me overcome these hurdles. I am incredibly appreciative to Pierce College and especially Pierce College at JBLM for the education I received.”

“He came to us to improve his GPA,” Putman says. “After successfully completing Anatomy and Physiology with me, he asked for help preparing for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), which I was glad to do.”

Pierce College at JBLM is very “military-friendly,” according to Putman, and that made it ideal for Lyon.

“They gave me the opportunity to further my education and achieve my goals while working a full-time job in the military,” says Lyon, who is also married and the father of three children. “I had the perfect balance of a challenging course load and flexibility for my work schedule.”

Following three months of tutoring and coursework in biology, biochemistry and other subjects, Lyon took the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and passed it with high scores.  

When it came time to apply to medical schools, Putman says, “Sam asked me about Harvard and I said, “Why not?’” Lyon applied to several medical schools, including Harvard. Putman wrote multiple letters of recommendation, as he does for many of his students.

In early 2018, Lyon learned he had been accepted to every medical school he applied to, including Harvard. He relocated to Cambridge this summer with his family to begin school.

At Lyon’s invitation, Putman flew to Boston in August to attend the all-day “White Coat” ceremony that welcomes incoming medical students and their families to Harvard. Putman found the experience very meaningful.

“I had the opportunity to chat with deans and find out more of what they are looking for, which will help us better prepare future students,” he says. “Essentially, they want students who will be leaders in creating a better life for everyone on our planet.  

“This trip to Harvard reaffirmed my belief that I am helping students become doctors, nurses and maybe even world leaders,” Putman says. “It is very rewarding to play a role in promoting the careers of people who will make a difference.”

As for Lyon, a Texas native, he and his family are settling into their new Northeast surroundings. “So far, so good,” he says, although he’s not so sure about the Boston winters to come.

No doubt he will take them in his stride, as he has all of the challenges he has faced to get where he is today.

“A lot of folks at Pierce really helped me out and I am so thankful,” Lyon says. “I could not have attained my goal of attending Harvard Medical School without their help and support.” 

“Sam will make a great doctor,” says Putman.

Lyon adds with a chuckle, “Hopefully, I will survive biochemistry and get that opportunity!”