JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- While he stepped into the general field of medicine to serve people, Capt. (Dr.) Matt Nestander specifically chose to work in Army Medicine to return to his roots.

"I just wanted to give back in that regard -- I've been a Soldier so I just wanted to serve the Soldiers or their Families in my case," Nestander said, who just graduated from Madigan Army Medical Center's Graduate Medical Education program June 9.

As a pediatrics resident, Nestander stood out by scoring in the top 10th percentile among his peers in the national in-training exam, and by presenting research findings showing that premature babies and low birth rates are risk factors for children to be under-immunized (although when they completed well-child visits as recommended, they were immunized on time).

After three years as a resident, advancing from book knowledge to practical experience, Nestander was one of the 101 graduates from 28 medical programs at Madigan who walked across the stage at the Health Care Professionals Graduation Ceremony at Carey Theater to emerge as credentialed providers, ready to serve Soldiers and civilians alike all across the world.

Colonel Michael Place, Madigan commander, shared what their next journeys might look like. "Make no mistake, you are each about to embark on a professional journey unlike any other as you serve in two of the most respected professions in our society -- the profession of arms and the profession of medicine," Place said.

Once the graduates serve in combat medicine, their journeys will change again as they transition from being medical colleagues to comrades in arms, he said.

Brigadier General Ronald Place, the keynote speaker and the special assistant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General, encouraged the graduates to focus on leadership by seeking mentors and leadership positions.

The general helped recognize some of the graduates for their outstanding work as residents and students -- Capt. Jason Bingham, who earned the Maj. Gen. Floyd L. Wergeland Award; Capt. Nupur Garg, who earned the Col. Robert Skelton Award; and Capt. Jennifer Richards, who earned the James M. Temo Award.

The speakers touted the accomplishments of the graduates, such as an overall 97 percent first-time board pass rate, a doctor who scored in the top 1 percentile nationally, a general surgery team which published 21 articles this year alone, and two graduates who made the national news during their first year as residents when they saved a life off-duty.

Four years ago, Capt. (Dr.) Anne Gunn and Capt. (Dr.) Rafik Ben Abda were flying back from training in San Antonio, Texas, when the airline flight attendants asked for help.

"We heard an announcement that they needed a doctor to come to the front of the plane," Ben Abda said, so the pair hurried up the aisle along with two then-pathology residents.

One of the pilots had a heart attack midflight, so Ben Abda brought him to the aisle where the four residents started CPR and used an automatic defibrillator. While the residents kept the pilot alive, the crew found another pilot on board who helped land the plane safely in Idaho.

"It was kind of fortuitous that there happened to be doctors on the plane because we were all coming back from the (Combat Casualty Care Course)," Gunn said.

While that incident helped mark the beginning of Gunn's residency in radiology, what she found most remarkable over the years was the solidarity of her class of residents.

"The most memorable thing overall was having a cohesive group; we bounced a lot of ideas off of each other at any time of day," she said.

Ben Abda, also a radiologist resident, enjoyed the mysteries that deciphering radiology images allowed him to solve.

"I try to figure out the unknown," Ben Abda said. "People are sick, they don't know what's going on with them, so they come to us and we try to figure out what's going on and try to solve that problem."

Now that he's completed his five years of residency, Ben Abda's next assignment at Fort Stewart, Georgia will allow him to keep fulfilling his dream of working in Army Medicine.

"To be able to give back to the country and serve in the military, I think that's a great honor," he said.