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From McDonald’s to medicine - Jamaican star shines in the US

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Paul Hannam (right) taking the Oath of Office as he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the US Navy Reserve Forces during a ceremony at Navy Recruiting District, Nashville headquarters.

The rise of Paul Hannam from being a United States Navy corpsman to medical doctor is being touted as more proof of the outstanding ability of Jamaicans to excel wherever they call home.

Hannam left Jamaica at age 17, fresh out of Knox High School, to live with his father in America.

It was his dream to attend college, but without the financial resources available for him to do so, he had to settle for a job at the fast-food establishment McDonald's.

Some five months later, a television commercial would change his life forever.

"So, coming to the States, my dad, my stepmom and I had conversations that I'm going to go to college, but they can't pay for it, so it is going to be the military," Hannam told The Sunday Gleaner.

"When you are 17 and you hear the military you most likely think of the Army. So in my head it was always going to be the Army, but when I saw the commercial for the Navy I thought it's all the same anyway, so I just called the number and that was it," said Hannam.

Being a small boy weighing 118 pounds, Hannam found the physical aspect of the training easy, but it was his performance on the compulsory Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery that led to the recruiter suggesting he take on a more challenging task within the Navy.

"My score wasn't super high, but was decent enough that I could have chosen a job as a hospital corpsman, which is the navy's version of a medic," said Hannam. "Our job was to provide medical service to sailors, as well as marines."


Being a corpsman, Hannam would do check-ups, physicals, immunisation, and blood draws at some hospital.

After enlisting, Hannam first attended boot camp, where he was trained to be a sailor, and then to hospital corps school. He was stationed in Japan for about two years before undergoing more training at field medical service school in order to qualify to be a field hospital corpsman or a field medic.

On completion he was stationed in a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, and from there, he went to Iraq where he served as a combat medic.

When he returned from Iraq his initial term was going to be up, so he had to decide if he wanted to re-enlist and stay longer as a corpsman, which was below the rank of a nurse in the medical field, or go to college.

"I didn't want to settle with being an enlisted person as I had the dream of being a doctor," said Hannam.

"I had to decide if I wanted to stay in the Navy as an enlisted person or go to college and medical school and advance myself."

So he decided to end his enlistment, join the reserves, and enrol in college. But being in the reserves and studying proved challenging, so he opted out of the reserves to focus on school.

On completion of his studies, Hannam made a call to the Navy Recruiting District, Nashville, and was informed about the training in medical speciality.

A short while later as Hannam spoke to the officer recruiter, he had a surreal feeling as he heard him say, "Congratulations, you got in."

According to Hannam, this was a pivotal moment in his life that made him truly appreciate his journey from enlisted to officer.


"I know that from this moment on whenever I'm in my uniform that will mean something specific to every enlisted person that I am around," he said. "It is humbling because I realise that I have a lot of responsibility, not only to myself and my Navy, but everyone under my command. So it's definitely something that I will wear with pride, but also humility."

Recently, Hannam took the oath of office and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve Forces during a ceremony at the Navy Recruiting District Nashville headquarters programme and is currently a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve Forces.

The 34-year-old, who is now doing his residency at the Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana, has been married for seven years to a Jamaican woman he knew before leaving the island, and lives with his wife and three young sons.

"Ideally, in the long term I want to give back a little to Jamaica, so maybe if all my student loans are paid and all my kids are off to college, I may come back to Jamaica and do a little health care there, too."