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School of Medicine Columbia

  • Phil Nordstrom in the Anatomy Lab

To the Next Adventure: The Profile of Philip Nordstrom

“I felt like if I didn’t at least try this, then I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

Those are the words of fourth-year M.D. student, Philip Nordstrom, regarding his decision to pursue medical school.

For most, going to medical school is a goal they’ve pursued since a young age, or the outset of high school, but for Nordstrom it’s a goal that formed throughout his life as he continuously chased the next adventure.


“Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be an astronaut and that five-year old dream pretty much stuck with me my entire life,” Nordstrom said.

His dream to become an astronaut initially led Nordstrom—the son of an Army family, who lived all over the world, but calls Columbia home—to the Air Force Academy out of high school.

This was the initial adventure, traveling and moving across the country to find himself in Colorado Springs pursuing a childhood dream at one of America’s premier educational institutions.

While at Air Force, there entered in an initial obstacle. In order to become an astronaut, you first need to become a fighter pilot and attend flight school following graduation.

This path is reserved for the top students at Air Force, of which Nordstrom narrowly missed qualifying, meaning he needed to shift his path and focus.

“The initial path didn’t work out exactly as I had wanted it to,” Nordstrom said. “But I talked to my advisor and she gave me another route to take to get to my goal, that brought me back to South Carolina.”


After returning to Columbia, Nordstrom spent a roughly seven-month period working odd jobs to make ends meet, taking classes at Midlands Tech to stay on track with his academics and spending time with his family to establish what he wanted the next part of his adventure to be.

“That was honestly probably one of the more low points of my life. I was struggling to make money, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become and those are hard things to work through when this dream you’ve had for so long doesn’t initially work out,” Nordstrom said.

During that time, he met with a recruiter for the Army and decided this was the next adventure he needed, so he did as he’s done so often and “figured he’d give it a try.”


While completing his basic training and initial tests to join the Army, Nordstrom was pulled into a recruiting meeting for what he calls the “Army’s version of the Navy Seals” in the Green Beret’s or the Army Special Forces.

It took one video and great test scores for Nordstrom to be sold on a path that would impact him for the next 12 years of his life.

“It was about three years’ worth of extra training all at Fort Bragg (now known as Fort Liberty) in North Carolina,” Nordstrom recalled. “You get all sorts of training and then training specific to your job on the team. I was a medic on the team—which was the start of my interest in medicine. I didn’t know anything about medicine at the time, but I chose to be a medic because I didn’t know what that was, and I wanted to learn more about it. It ended up being amazing.”

Part of that training included stops in Tampa, Fla., at a major hospital system to learn the basics of patient care and all of the skills needed when out in the field with very few resources at hand.

Following training, Nordstrom was added to a team of 12 individuals that would eventually become his family during his over-decade-long tenure in the Special Forces, which included three separate deployments to Afghanistan.

Phil Nordstrom Driving a Four-Wheeler

While overseas, he was able to utilize all of the skills he gained in training to help both his teammates, and the locals and communities they were there to build up and help.

Nordstrom and his team grew together, but eventually when you continue to grow, there can be a ceiling on the rank that can be achieved which eventually led him to working to find his next adventure.

“I still call that job the best job in the world. But, I realized that I had been doing it for a little while, I was getting pretty high up in rank and after a while you’re not an active SF member on the team anymore and you get into more admin roles and I didn’t want to do that,” Nordstrom recalled. “Also, my wife and I had been married for eight or nine years at this point and wanted to start having kids and I didn’t want to miss out on my kids growing up.

“Around 2014 is when I realized I wanted to do something else. At the time doing something medical was always in the back of my mind. ‘I was like do I want to be a physical therapist or a PA or maybe even being a doctor would be crazy, but maybe I would want to try that.’ And I have this personality of, ‘If I don’t try this, then I’m going to regret not trying it later on down the road, so I at least want to try it.’

“That’s what led me to go into medical school. When I asked what I had to do, I realized I had to finish a bachelor’s degree.”

Thus, the journey began.


After stepping away from his Special Forces team, Nordstrom took a gig as a Special Forces recruiter, while finishing his bachelor’s degree and taking the proper M.D. prerequisite courses at night at Campbell University on the school’s satellite campus on Fort Bragg.

Following completion of his degree, Nordstrom took the MCAT examination and applied to medical school. He was in on a number of interviews and had options available, but ultimately, the world brought him back home to the Midlands and the School of Medicine Columbia for his next adventure.


Nordstrom’s initial years at the School of Medicine were filled with ups, downs, a pandemic and the birth of his two children.

His experience as an M-I and M-II student in the classroom tested his persistence and willingness to continue to work and pursue a degree when the going got incredibly tough.

“In my first semester, I passed all but one class. I ended up failing biochemistry barely, but had a really good first semester otherwise. However, the way the curriculum worked then, if you failed one class you had to retake the entire semester, so my very first spring semester I spent at home. They told me to take a reset, spend time with our first child and come back ready in the fall,” Nordstrom said.

It was a break and time with his family that in the moment he wasn’t fully aware that he needed. Upon returning the next fall, he grabbed the bull by the horns and became a leader in his class.

In most M.D. programs, following the first two years in the classroom, students must take and pass the Step One Exam in order to be cleared for the clinical portion of their education as M-III and M-IV students.

This brought Nordstrom to another road block.

“I ended up not passing Step One on the first try and had to continually retake the exam, often missing the passing score by a point, or one question, or a word here or there,” Nordstrom said. “It led me to another pretty difficult stage of my life that had me questioning a ton if this is what I really wanted to be doing.”


This pushed Nordstrom to another break in his medical education. With the birth of his second child, the time away was wisely taken and used to his benefit.

“That time really allowed me to gain a healthy relationship with my education,” Nordstrom said. “I learned how to healthily put the books down in the evening to spend time with my family, I found new and more effective ways to study that not only helped me but allowed me to help others in the program who were also going through it.”

Once again, the time away proved pivotal for Nordstrom, who began his M-III year in the Fall of 2022, where he immediately shined and used his past adventure as the guide for his future career in medicine.

“Because of everything I had worked through and been through in the military, I was really prepared when I finally got into that clinical environment, because I felt so equipped to handle so many of those really stressful situations,” Nordstrom said.

“Overall, my third year went really well and throughout there were so many moments where for the first time I really believed and felt like this is what I should be doing and this is what I’m meant to do.”

As he worked through each M-III clerkship and rotation, each new thing he tried, became his favorite thing, yet when he began thoroughly looking into a specialty, needing to be a jack of all trades in the Special Forces pointed him in the direction of family medicine.

“When I came into med school, the preconceived notion I had about family medicine was that you go into it, if you don’t get into anything else. Then, I did my family medicine rotation and these people were some of the smartest people in the hospital.

“I’m sure in the beginning they just knew a little bit about a lot of things, but it was clear that as they grew in their careers they began to know so much about every little thing there is to know. They were some of the most useful and versatile individuals in the hospital and could be plugged in almost anywhere, which is what impressed me the most.”

Being that Nordstrom completed his military match in December, family medicine is an ideal need for a military base because of the number of families on location, along with the flexibility it can bring his career if he chooses to further specialize or advance his life in medicine.


Through the trials and tribulations of life, Nordstrom is now set to begin his three-year Family Medicine Residency at Fort Eisenhour in Augusta, Ga.

Phil Nordstrom at Match Day

“This journey I’ve had through med school has been unreal,” Nordstrom said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without God’s guidance and the love and support from my wife and family. They all helped me through so much of this. From finding peace through the hardships, to supporting my dreams, I wouldn’t be here without any of them.”

Along with his faith and incredible family, what helped continue to keep him going and motivated through each road block were the old words of Winston Churchill echoed through his fathers voice.

“There was this speech that Churchill gave to the British people during World War II where he just kept telling his people to never give up and to keep moving forward,” Nordstrom said. “My dad shared that with me often and I think I’ve just always carried those words with me.

“No matter what I try or want to do, I just don’t see not seeing it through as an option, no matter how difficult it may get.”

Nordstrom will leave Columbia in May with a second degree in hand and enter his next adventure and the beginning of his professional career as a physician.

What will follow, will be what always has—no matter the ups, downs, smooth roads or barriers in the way, he’ll take it in stride and that next adventure will also do as it always has and find him when the time is right.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.