Second-Year Medical Student Chosen as Tillman Scholar
Neil Vigil, a student at the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix, was selected for the prestigious scholarship based on his military service and leadership.

By Teresa Joseph, UA College of Medicine — Phoenix
July 31, 2018


“My time as an Army medic was my first experience in the medical field and the foundation for my desire to become a physician,” said Tillman Scholar Neil Vigil, a student at the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix.
“My time as an Army medic was my first experience in the medical field and the foundation for my desire to become a physician,” said Tillman Scholar Neil Vigil, a student at the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix. (Courtesy of Neil Vigil)

Neil Vigil, a second-year medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, has been named a 2018 Tillman Scholar by the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“It’s incredibly humbling to be among those selected as a Tillman Scholar,” Vigil said. “I believe that veterans have the skills, ability and values to make significant and lasting contributions to our communities. The program will allow me to connect with and support like-minded veterans as we tackle tough challenges in our community. The Pat Tillman Foundation says that they believe our best years of service to our country are still ahead of us and I couldn’t agree more.”

Vigil enlisted in the Army as a medic after high school. He entered active duty in the spring of 2004 and served as a medic until he was selected to attend the United States Military Academy from 2006 to 2010. In May 2010, he was commissioned as an aviation officer and entered flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After flight school, he was stationed in Katterbach, Germany, as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and company executive officer. 

“My time as an Army medic was my first experience in the medical field and the foundation for my desire to become a physician,” he said. “Serving as an infantry platoon medic taught me the importance of trust between provider and patient. My soldiers never mentioned any health issues in public, but it was my job as their medic to develop trust and communication to provide the care they needed.”

Vigil’s unit deployed to Shindand, Afghanistan, from May 2012 to March 2013. During deployment, he was selected to serve as the platoon leader of a 53-person platoon. Additionally, he flew aerial combat missions and tactical air assaults and served as an air mission commander. He left Germany in 2014 to attend an officer leadership course at Fort Rucker, followed by a year-long assignment with the 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

For his last assignment in the Army, Vigil served as a company commander and was responsible for leading 76 soldiers and civilians that instruct avionics, electrical and hydraulic aviation training for more than 700 soldiers annually. He left the Army in July 2017 to attend the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix.

“My choice to attend the College of Medicine – Phoenix really came down to the amazing people and culture,” he said. “I strongly felt that the collaborative community-focused culture found here was the environment I want guiding my development as a physician and supporting the community in which my family lives. The college’s culture fosters innovation and adaptability that will prepare us not only to be competent physicians, but also to be leaders ready to meet the challenges of a continually evolving health care environment.”

Although medical school is challenging, Vigil said he has the support of his wife and two children to keep him motivated. His favorite experience so far has been working on his scholarly project with his mentor, Dr. Ben Bobrow. Vigil and Bobrow are working on a statewide analysis of suicide among emergency medical service professionals compared to the general public. Additionally, they’re working on exploring the effectiveness of resiliency training for EMTs and firefighters. 

“My academic goals include promoting resiliency and suicide prevention research in high-risk populations, as well as further developing veteran-focused health outreach at the University of Arizona,” Vigil said. “As a company commander, I learned first-hand how important it is to prioritize mental wellness in our military community and am passionate about addressing these topics.”

Vigil is the youngest of six children. He spent the first 18 years of his life in the same house, in a tight-knit community of 700 people in Yamhill, Oregon. He said the community played a large part in developing his desire to serve others. He graduated from Yamhill Carlton High School in 2003 and from the United Stated Military Academy with a bachelor’s degree in Management in 2010. 

“As someone who started medical school at 32, I think it’s important to remember that the journey is as important as the destination,” he said. “The path to becoming a physician is a marathon, not a sprint. Your experiences outside of medicine are important. They will help you better connect with your future patients, colleagues and communities. With 40 percent of the class of 2021 being re-applicants, I think it’s really evident that our school and admissions value life experience.”

A version of this article originally appeared on the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix website:

Extra info

The Pat Tillman Foundation recognizes 60 scholars each year for their service, leadership and potential. The 2018 class will receive more than $1.3 million in scholarships to pursue higher education and continue their service in the fields of medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and arts. The foundation has invested more than $16 million in academic support and named more than 580 Tillman Scholars from 100 academic institutions nationwide. A former Arizona Cardinals football player, Pat Tillman served with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. He died in April 2004.

Visit the Pat Tillman Foundation website for more information.


Resources for the media

Media contact:
Teresa Joseph