Foundation past scholarship winner Lt. Cmdr. Loretta Stein’s current adventure has her living in Yokosuka, Japan, outside of Tokyo. She serves in the U.S. Navy as the staff ophthalmologist at the U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka and the only military ophthalmologist on mainland Japan.

“The best part of my day is caring for the people who chose to move to Japan to serve our country and protect our freedom,” Dr. Stein says.

Dr. Stein’s patients are all active duty military members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and their families living in Japan. She also cares for other civilians and contractors working for the Department of Defense. Her fiancé, Joshua Green, joins her in Japan. “We have loved taking advantage of the opportunity to be living abroad and experience life in Japan as much as we can,” she says.

Medical students earning Foundation scholarships to combat the increasing costs of medical school have shared their stories this year about how funding has shaped their outlook on practicing in the medical field. In 2007, Dr. Stein received the $1,000 Myrtle Siegfried, MD, and Michael Vigilante, MD, Scholarship available to first-year medical students who are residents of Berks, Lehigh, or Northampton counties.

“I was very grateful for the award from the Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. My father, Arthur V. Stein, was a plastic surgeon where I grew up in Allentown. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, as well as leader of the Young Physicians Section. Being awarded the scholarship not only was a financial assist, but a vote of confidence from the Medical Society’s foundation in my home state and added an additional personal connection. My father passed away in 2013, but his memory, including the dedication that he had to serve his patients, and to be an engaged member of the physician community and Pennsylvania Medical Society stays with me,” she says.

“I also applied and was accepted to the U.S. Navy Health Scholarship Program for medical school which provides participants with tuition and a stipend throughout medical school in exchange for four years of service as a practicing physician. This alleviated a significant portion of medical school debt for me, but even so, I had to take out private loans in order to cover the cost of living in Boston. The Foundation scholarship supported me essentially in my educational supplies and cost of living in Boston at Tufts University School of Medicine,” she says.

Using a combination of federal and private loans, Dr. Stein paid for her undergraduate education and master's degree. Without the Navy's and Myrtle Siegfried, MD, and Michael Vigilante, MD, Scholarship, she said she would have more than $800,000 in debt at this point in her career.

“Student debt is the most central issue to today's professional students. The sky rocketing tuition and cost of living has left students with a huge amount of debt. It has created a shift in medical students pursuing more specialty training compared to primary care in an effort to make more money to pay loans down faster. We are already seeing the effects of this shift with a major deficit in primary care providers, forcing our care to be outsourced to mid-level providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners, as well as foreign medical graduates willing to become primary care providers. Because mid-level providers have less training and experience than physicians, they often run more unnecessary testing and order more specialty referrals, thereby driving up the cost of care. I believe addressing medical student debt can help our country address the high cost of health care we see today,” Dr. Stein says.

Dr. Stein completed her training in ophthalmology at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, in 2015. She also has had the privilege of participating in medical humanitarian missions in Guatemala, Fiji, and Malaysia. Following her tour in Japan, she hopes to return to the U.S. to practice ophthalmology and pursue a career in military global health engagement.

Dr. Stein said that mentors and people who fund educational scholarships are essential to the future of medicine. “A career in medicine is a long road with many different paths toward finding satisfaction in what you do. There are people who have traveled that road before you that can help you navigate your own way forward,” she says.

For now, Dr. Stein and her fiancé have been living abroad for two years. They traveled all over Japan from the northern tip of Hokkaido to the Okinawa Islands, as well as to nine different countries, and back to the states several times to see family or go to conferences. “I love living in Japan,” she says. “I find the people really polite and friendly. Practicing here in the Naval Hospital is not unlike practicing in the U.S., except that I have to take into consideration the military and operational side of my patient’s care - questions such as: When are they deploying? Are they able to perform their duties? Should I medivac them back to the States for sub-specialist care or refer them to a Japanese sub-specialist? There are some special considerations when you are taking care of patients in such a unique setting.”