From the Navy to Healthcare Management, Brian Ruiz Charts a New Course

Gary Shapiro
May 22, 2019

Brian Ruiz grew up wanting to be a doctor. But while serving in the Navy as a clinic supervisor at a boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., he realized that path was not for him.

“While direct patient care was fulfilling, I found a greater passion—and more of a calling—to work on a larger scale in a more policy-oriented and managerial capacity,” he said. In May, he graduated with a master’s degree in health policy and management from the Mailman School of Public Health.

Ruiz joined the Navy in 2008 as a way to help pay for college and further training. Stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he inspected medical inventory and distributed medical equipment. His next assignment was in Great Lakes, at a naval medical clinic where he worked to reduce patient waiting time and increase patient satisfaction

He also tested his own mettle with the challenging military training, undergoing jungle survival training, which involved eating only crackers and water for three days and subsisting on natural resources. He learned to give intravenous care at night in a field. And he once was part of a four-person team in gas masks, carrying a mannequin on a stretcher while running an obstacle course up and down a hill. “The mannequin weighed at least 150 pounds. That was intense training,” he said. 

In the military, medical professionals are affectionately called “docs,” whether or not they hold a medical degree. “The enlisted soldiers are the ones who will go out into the fighting zones. They know that ‘docs’ could save your life, if you’re injured,” he said.  

By shifting to health management, Ruiz will be able able “to implement change from a macroscopic perspective,” he said.

Born in Elgin, Ill., a suburb 40 miles northwest of Chicago, Ruiz is a first-generation college graduate. His parents moved there from Puerto Rico, joining so many others from the island that the town has its own Puerto Rican Day parade. His neighborhood could sometimes be rough. “During middle school, we were exposed to students affiliated with gangs, he recalled. “At 12, a classmate tried to sell me a 9mm gun.”

He attended Truman State University in Missouri for two years, then joined the Navy. He continued his education after his 2013 honorable discharge, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in health systems management from Loyola University Chicago. While there he worked at a free health clinic, which served mostly immigrants, as a community health clinic coordinator.

He decided to apply to Mailman once he learned about its health policy and management program.  “Being at an Ivy League school was never on my radar. Given my background, I didn’t think it was something I could achieve.”

While there, he was a president of Future Healthcare Leaders, one of the largest student groups at Mailman, which focuses on professional and personal development.

In his last year, he was a teaching assistant for the Professional Development Program, which helps students improve communication skills needed for advancement in their careers.   

Catherine Foster, who teaches health policy and management program at the Mailman School, was one of Ruiz’s professors. “What makes Brian stand out among his peers is his charisma and genuine willingness to help others,” she said. “It has served him well in his responsibilities as a teaching assistant, where he frequently met with students to assist them in improving resumes and prepping for interviews to pursue their professional growth.”

She added, “I look forward to seeing where Brian’s career path takes him and the positive impact he makes on those around him.”

Ruiz has now been out of the military longer than he was in it. Even so, he still rises at 5:00 a.m. each day, makes his bed military style and then exercises for at least an hour. “It’s a habit that I haven't been able to shake, no matter how hard I've tried,” he said.