A Call to Serve


Many eighth-grade girls cover their binders with pictures of pop stars; Kristel Hallsson covered hers with fighter jets. “The military was my passion in life,” she says of her 11-year career in operations intelligence in the U.S. Air Force. “I wanted to be a part of it to protect my country.”

In 2009, Hallsson’s military service was reaching its conclusion, and she was considering becoming a paramedic. Then, during an operation in Afghanistan, two of her teammates were killed in combat. She listened to them die on the radio, unable to help. “That was the most helpless I have ever felt in my life,” Hallsson says. “More than anything else in the world, I wish I could have saved them.”

It was shortly after that she decided to become a doctor, to use the skills she’d developed in the military — staying calm under pressure, working closely with teammates and thriving in fast-paced situations — to save lives.

After earning an undergraduate degree in biology at Central Washington University on the G.I. Bill, Hallsson has just begun her first year of medical school at the UW School of Medicine’s Spokane, Wash., site on the Gonzaga University campus. A Washington native, she had no doubts about her choice. “The UW is the best medical school in the country!” she says.

Hallsson is part of the School’s Targeted Rural and Underserved Track (TRUST) program, designed to encourage and support students interested in working in rural areas in the five-state region of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. And although it’s too early to say for sure, Hallsson is leaning toward emergency medicine or OB-GYN as a specialty.

“I absolutely believe I made the right decision,” she says of her career change. “I want to be able to help people on their worst days and change their lives for the better.”