USU Medical Student Helps Build International Relationships through Sports


Medical Student from USU Cultivates Global Connections through Sports

Navy Ensign Megan McLaughlin, a member of the Uniformed Services University (USU) School of Medicine class of 2026, embarked on a memorable journey as she stepped onto the soccer field for the opening ceremony of the 14th CISM Women’s Military Soccer World Championship. This international event took place at the Sportpark De Westmaat in Bunschoten-Spakenburg, the Netherlands, from June 27 to July 9.

The CISM, or Conseil International du Sport Militaire, is more commonly known as the International Military Sports Council. It serves as an international sports association that hosts competitive sporting events, including the World Military Championships, for the armed forces of 140-member countries. CISM’s overarching goal is to promote world peace by bringing together military teams to foster bonds, lifelong friendships, and a greater understanding of each other’s cultures.

In the CISM soccer tournament, the team dynamics resemble those of the World Cup. This year, eleven teams competed, representing the United States, Ireland, Cameroon, Belgium, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Tanzania, and Greece. A total of over 219 female athletes showcased their skills and teamwork.

McLaughlin’s passion for soccer began at a young age, nurtured by her family’s strong ties to the sport. Her father coaches volleyball, and her mother is a soccer coach. Remarkably, her middle sister even ventured to Prague to play in a professional soccer league during McLaughlin’s time in the Netherlands.

When McLaughlin first learned about the competition, she turned to the School of Medicine Office for Student Affairs at USU for guidance on how to balance her studies and her athletic pursuits. She received invaluable support from various quarters, including Dr. Ryan Landoll, who championed her cause, as well as her module directors in neurology and gastroenterology/hematology-oncology. Her military chain of command and the office of the Professor of Military Science also played pivotal roles in coordinating her summer operational experiences.

McLaughlin acknowledges her good fortune in terms of the timing of the games, which aligned closely with her summer operational experience. This alignment facilitated her participation in the tournament while meeting her academic responsibilities.

With the backing of USU, she submitted her application to Team USA and was chosen as one of the forty women to try out at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs. These athletes hailed from various branches of the armed forces, many stationed across the globe. Out of the forty U.S. players who vied for a spot, only twenty made the team, and McLaughlin was one of them.

McLaughlin immediately devised a plan to manage her academic commitments. She realized that she needed to take her finals on a different schedule than her peers. Additionally, she had to schedule her finals for the gastrointestinal module upon her return from the games.

The process was demanding, as she had to juggle school and training while on campus, and she acknowledged the difficulty of being absent from school for a month. Nonetheless, McLaughlin emphasized that the cohesive and supportive atmosphere at USU was the main reason she chose the institution. She appreciated the robust support system within the university, noting that she feels completely aligned with her choice of school.

“The team environment here is something I love,” McLaughlin said. “I wanted to be in a place where I was supported by my classmates. Having our Fire Team system integrated into our operations was something that resonated with me and was immensely important. I feel as though I’m where I should be.”

She also noted that the USU community was as enthusiastic about the tournament as she was and provided unwavering encouragement. “Not only would people ask me about it when I was still on campus this spring, but they also continued sending texts and emails throughout the tournament saying, ‘Good luck! You got this! You can do this!'”

Upon her selection to Team USA, the team had five weeks to train independently before heading to a pre-tournament preparation camp for ten days.

“My classmates helped me train every day,” McLaughlin explained. “I continued attending Friday Footy sessions hosted by the USU Soccer Club every Friday. I also had the opportunity to practice with a high school boys’ team from Alexandria, Virginia, several times a week leading up to the training camp and the games. Training with that group was a blessing because the boys pushed me to be as fit and technically proficient as possible before the camp.”

In the Netherlands, Team USA and the other participating teams were accommodated at a hotel in Amsterdam, which provided opportunities for shared meals, games, and gear exchanges. The tournament’s motto, ‘friendship through sport,’ was evident in the organizers’ efforts to facilitate interactions among players from different countries. Despite language barriers, the athletes connected and developed a deeper understanding of each other by the end of the tournament.

During the tournament, McLaughlin played as a midfielder. In the group stage, Team USA secured a 3-1 victory over Germany in their first game, followed by a 4-2 loss to Cameroon in the second game. However, they rebounded in the final group stage match, defeating Belgium 4-0. Despite the loss to Cameroon, Team USA’s performance earned them second place in their group, leading them to compete in the bracket for places fifth through eighth. After the group stage, they clinched victories against Greece (2-0) and Tanzania (5-4 in penalty kicks), securing fifth place overall. In the final, the Republic of Korea emerged as the champions, defeating France 1-0.

McLaughlin shared a heartwarming memory from her time with Team USA. When her teammates learned that she had missed USU’s White Coat Ceremony due to soccer tryouts, they decided to make her feel special. The team’s doctor, a USU alumnus, explained the significance of the ceremony to her teammates. That Friday, during the ceremony on campus, her teammates surprised McLaughlin with her personalized White Coat Ceremony at the hotel. They draped white towels over her shoulders to symbolize her white coat, affixed a piece of athletic tape with ‘Future Dr. McLaughlin’ on her ‘coat,’ and had her deliver a speech, albeit less polished than Dr. Robert Liotta’s.

Reflecting on the experience, McLaughlin expressed her gratitude, saying, “It was truly special to be surrounded by such accomplished women who were excited to celebrate this career milestone with me.


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