Posted on February 22nd in News

Alumnus Dr. Adam James Establishes PTK Scholarship

Dr. Adam James

When Dr. Adam James began his first year of medical school, he promised himself that once he became a doctor he would give back to the organizations, like Phi Theta Kappa, that helped him achieve his dream.

“If I had not applied to PTK, I wouldn’t have applied to medical school,” James said. “I wouldn’t be a doctor right now.”

Now, two years after completing his residency, he has established the Dr. Adam James Hidden Pre-Medical Student Scholarship with the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation. The inaugural scholarship will be awarded to a Phi Theta Kappa member interested in pursuing medicine.

James is the first PTK scholar to establish a PTK scholarship, and the first recipient of his scholarship will be awarded this spring.

“PTK believed in me essentially at a time where I didn’t believe in myself,” Dr. James said. “They told me, ‘You can do this.’ It made me want to give back to try to find another student who’s like me, who didn’t come from a good background, didn’t have any family support, and didn’t have an upbringing that gave me a belief in myself. PTK believed in me enough to where I did not want to let them down.”

When James was 18, he joined the Air Force as a Special Operations Medic, and it was there that he realized that he wanted to become a doctor.

“My first deployment, we had a really bad casualty that we picked up, a gentleman had a bilateral leg amputation, single arm amputation,” James said. “I had maximized what I could do as a medic on the ground. Thankfully, we got him to the hospital, or facility, that we were taking him to. He ended up living, but it was kind of this feeling of inadequacy in the sense of wanting to be able to do more than I was able to provide at the time.”

As a first-generation college student, James was nervous about starting from the very bottom and enrolling in college, but he felt that Pima Community College in Arizona would be the steppingstone to help him achieve his dreams.

“When I started college, I had to start from the very bottom,” James said. “I had to take 80-level classes because I had failed the entrance exam, and it just was a constant battle to climb up the ladder.”

Despite his anxieties, Phi Theta Kappa, the organization that believed in him when he did not, motivated him.

In 2012, James received PTK’s most prestigious scholarship, the Hites Scholarship, and earned recognition as an All-USA Academic Team member and a New Century Scholar.

“I had never won any scholastic awards or been told I was smart my entire life,” James said. “It was the first time that anyone had put their backing in me in the sense of saying ‘Hey, you are able to do this.’ That support that gave me the motivation to want to study more and push further and try to do better on exams and see where I could go. It subsequently led to me becoming a doctor.”

The encouragement and support James received from PTK sustained him as he earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular biology at the University of Arizona and as he moved on to medical school at the University of Minnesota where he struggled with feeling like an imposter among his peers.

“You’re amongst a pedigree of people where most of their family members are physicians or pharmacists or lawyers or had come from a little more affluent or well-to-do background than I did. I was the first one in my family to go to college,” James said. “Everyone in my family came from a more disenfranchised background, so I think it was a challenge. It felt like imposter syndrome because the people I was amongst came from a better, more educated background, than I came from. Once I finally got to medical school, it was like, am I really smart enough to be here?”

The recognition he received as a member of PTK helped remind him that he was as capable as his classmates.

“It was cool to say, ‘I’m a scholar,’” James said. “I never thought of myself that way. As trivial as that term is, it’s more of what it meant and what PTK stood by that really gave me the motivation to say, ‘I can actually do this.’”

Today, James works as an emergency room physician with Adventist Health Care and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Maryland. As a member of the Air Force, he serves as an instructor in the Center for the Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills (C-STARS). The program provides training in trauma and critical care for U.S. Air Force physicians, nurses, technicians, Special Operations medics and chaplains.

James achieved his dream of becoming a doctor. Now, his next goal is to receive his master’s in public health.

“I think the way the healthcare system is set up right now has a lot of gaps that I would like to better understand and, hopefully, try to help fix within my own practice and within the local community I work at,” James said.

Phi Theta Kappa is proud to have played part in supporting Dr. James along his educational journey. The Society celebrates his commitment to pay it forward for members in the future.

If you want to know more about how PTK supports students in the pursuit of their academic and professional goals, visit the benefits page to learn what opportunities are available. Not a member of PTK yet? Go here to find out more about PTK’s nationwide community of scholars.

If you or someone you know has a great story about how PTK contributed to your success, we’d love to hear about it.  Share your story at

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