In high school, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alicia Williams ’03, M.D., considered entering the military or pursuing a path to medical school after graduation. Her top college choice at first was the U.S. Air Force Academy, but it was too far from her Northern Virginia home.
Setting her sights closer to home, Williams and her mother came to a VMI open house. Heading to Lexington, they were unsure what to expect. What they found were small class sizes and caring professors, plus a discipline that Williams felt would benefit her overall. “There was a structure that I knew I would need in college in order to succeed,” she said, “because I think, had I gone to a non-regimented college, I would have gotten lost in the shuffle.”
Thanks to that positive first impression, Williams chose VMI and hasn’t looked back, except in gratitude for all the Institute gave her. Today, in addition to being a general and burn surgeon, she’s the U.S. Army Burn Flight Team chief medical officer, which is part of the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Williams is also the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research chief medical officer.
Close relationships with professors and brother rats were key to Williams’ success. As a biology major, she appreciated support from Col. Wade Bell, Ph.D., now head of the biology department; Col. Richard “Dick” Rowe, Ph.D., professor of biology; and the late Col. Tom Baur ’75, Ph.D.
“My first two years, my grades weren’t that great, but they improved enough that I graduated with stars,” Williams said. “The professors cared, and you got so much individual attention.”
Col. Rose Mary Sheldon, Ph.D., then-professor of history, was a key figure in Williams’ support system, as she frequently invited cadets to dinner at her house. The fellow cadets who sat around Sheldon’s table became the young cadet’s friends for life.
“My first two years, my grades weren’t that great, but they improved enough that I graduated with stars. The professors cared, and you got so much individual attention.”U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alicia Williams ’03, M.D.
“The friendships I’ve made have really lasted,” Williams stated. “You develop a bond with people you [go] through something different with—a very different life experience.”
This was especially true of Williams and her fellow biology majors, several of whom attended medical school. By Williams’ recollection, at least seven or eight future doctors were in the Class of 2003, and the group was tightly bonded.
Williams attended the Medical College of Virginia. After MCV, she did her surgical residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. By then, she was a captain in the Army, and she found herself caring for wounded soldiers returning from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.
VMI prepared her well for the stress of residency, where long hours are the norm. “It’s mostly getting up early, going to sleep late, and being able to think on your feet,” Williams said.
With a 2-year-old daughter and another baby on the way, Williams doesn’t have much time to reflect, but when she does, she feels privileged to be among the Institute’s first female graduates. “The [women] in our class are just so successful. I’m honored to be in the same class as them. They’re all incredible in different ways.”
Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist
The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.