Adam Wallace is an ambitious man. Only five years in the Air Force and the Oak Park, Illinois, native has already been a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist, SERE instructor, and a student in the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program (EMDP2), where he is laying the pre-med groundwork to become a military emergency medicine doctor. And if that isn’t enough, Wallace recently added award-winning children’s book author to his resume.
In fact, Wallace has penned two children’s books -- both on COVID-19. “The Day My Kids Stayed Home: Explaining COVID-19 and the Coronavirus to Your Kids” and “The Day We Got a Puppy: Teaching Kids to Stay Safe in a Pandemic” were both published this year.
“As a SERE specialist, I was an expert in survival, evasion, resistance, and escape, but my real focus was on teaching and communicating those important principles to students. In March, we were living in Spokane, Washington, and our state was home to the first COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation. My wife, Val, is a paramedic and when she fell ill, we spent two weeks as some of the first people in isolation,” Wallace said. “I had a few days back at work and in normal life before social distancing and the lockdown were implemented and was surprised that a lot of people didn't understand the pandemic. As my wife started to work overtime on the ambulance and the nation focused on fighting COVID-19, I wanted to find a way to help. Writing a book about the virus combined my teaching experience and my love of medicine. My goal was to create an educational tool that could be quickly distributed and easily used by families.”
Wallace said he initially hadn’t considered actually publishing the first book, but as he developed it, he discovered that he could do it. The book was released simultaneously in both a free digital download version and a printed hard-copy book for sale online. He targeted the book to children, but included a section for adults, too.
“I wrote the book for kids and adults. While the story has very simple health information in it, the back of the book has an informal Q&A section to hopefully prepare readers to address any questions that kids may have,” Wallace said.
Wallace said his entire family helped him with the book.
“My wife works in, and I am aspiring to work in, healthcare, so the pandemic is a constant concern for both of us. Val and my parents helped me to edit and clean up the book -- it was definitely a team effort to get it published,” he said. His second book, “The Day We Got a Puppy” was written to clarify information learned about the virus after the initial book was released.
“The stars of the books are our puppies, Maui and Kona, who also love the books. When I started writing I decided to include our puppies and family in the illustrations. I figured if I was going to lose a bunch of money illustrating the story, we might as well get some cute drawings of our dogs out of it. It's been pretty fun seeing Maui on the front page of the newspaper or in a magazine,” he said.
Wallace’s books have been a success. Earlier this year, he received a request from a publisher in Japan to make them available in Japanese. But even more surprising to Wallace, his first book earned the Purple Dragonfly Award from Story Monsters, LLC, which highlights the best in children’s books and recognizes newly published, up-and-coming authors for their work.
“I was pretty stunned to win an award. Most authors try for years to publish a successful book and I feel incredibly blessed to have hit a homerun with my first book. I hope the award brings more attention and credibility to the book and its public health message. There is far too much disinformation available about the pandemic and I wrote the book to give parents and kids a trustworthy resource. I hope the award helps to get the books in front of more young faces to help them understand this virus and outbreak,” Wallace said.
The aspiring physician says he isn’t sure yet about future literary endeavors.
“Down the road I'd love to write a few more kids’ books," he said. "The whole process has been a blast, but with EMDP2 and med school ahead I'll have to wait and see if I have the free time. I'd like to come up with another dog-related story to teach about other public health topics, maybe about how vaccines work and how safe they are, food subsidies and nutrition, or something to do with environmental issues. I really like being able to help kids engage in "adult" topics. I learned as a SERE specialist that it is always better to teach people why they should want to do something, rather than just how to do it. Hopefully the books help a few kids understand what's happening around them and gives them a little control of their world.”
As for Wallace’s current world, he is now four months into the two-year EMDP2 program, which provides a pre-med pathway for promising enlisted service members with a bachelor’s degree who are interested in a career as a military physician. The USU program sends students to George Mason University full-time while allowing them to remain on active duty at their current rank and pay level. Upon successful completion, EMDP2 students must apply to medical school at USU, but may also apply to civilian medical schools through the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Wallace, who volunteered for humanitarian medical assistance missions with his wife before he joined the Air Force, learned about the program from operational medicine physicians.
“During water survival training, I got the opportunity to attend Navy SCUBA diver school, and met a few Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST) members. I had always wanted to eventually switch back to medicine, but those two experiences were the catalyst of my decision. At SCUBA school we got a small peek at the diving medicine clinic, and I was immediately convinced that I needed to go back to school. Then, teaching a few SOST physicians and hearing about their medical careers, I found a path to follow," Wallace said. "EMDP2 was the perfect transition between SERE and the medical world since it lets me continue to wear the uniform. Since my wife is a full-time nursing student at George Mason University, the EMDP2 allows me to support our family while we both prepare for medical careers. My parents are pretty happy I don't spend my work days jumping out of planes, and I think Val is happy that I'm home each night. We're excited to see what the next step is after EMDP2.”