August 2018 - While under fire in Afghanistan, Colton Lynn left his machine gun to help a fellow Marine who’d been shot in the leg. Seeing blood gushing from the bullet hole, Lynn poured QuikClot on the wound and applied a tourniquet.
It was his first medical experience in the Marine Corps.
“I realized that just a few moments patching up a guy was more exciting than shooting a machine gun from a helicopter,” he said. “And if those few moments were more exciting than doing the kind of stuff that you see in the movies, then I needed to rethink my career.”
Growing up in east Texas, Lynn knew he wanted to go to college but needed a way to pay for it. At 16, he signed up with the Marines Corps. At 17, he went to boot camp. “I didn’t join for super honorable reasons. My family didn’t make much money, and I wanted to go to college. I thought ‘20 years and then I retire.’”
He stayed six years, knowing that if he reenlisted for four more he’d be halfway to retirement and “that would make it much harder to get out.”
After the Marine Corps, Lynn headed to University of North Texas (UNT), earning a biology degree while minoring in chemistry and Spanish. While at UNT, he served as president of the Medically Dedicated Students Organization and vice president of the campus chapter of Alpha Epsilon Delta. By the time he graduated, Lynn had tutored 900 students, starting informally by inviting classmates to his house to study.
He thought about going to chiropractic school because he and his parents had positive experiences with a local practitioner, but when he began learning details of the body’s biological systems he knew he preferred becoming a physician.
As a scribe in an emergency department for a year and a half Lynn “learned more than I ever thought possible about patient care.”
Soon he was privately making his own patient diagnoses, and then would check in with the physician to see if he was right. He also was able to use his Spanish-speaking skills to translate for doctors.
“It was exciting every day, even when I had to work from 2 a.m. until 10 a.m. I was still excited to be there.”
After he was accepted to University of Colorado School of Medicine, Lynn celebrated with a trip to Europe and Morocco. He shipped his motorcycle to London and spent 55 days traveling 9,000 miles through 20 countries.
“I had nothing but my house on the back of a motorcycle. It was life-changing. Everyone always says, ‘Be careful – there are people out there who want to get you.’ I had exactly one issue in 55 days. (Lynn scared off a couple men trying to steal his motorcycle.) I met the nicest people everywhere I went. In the deserts of Morocco, strangers will give you food and water. In Greece, people invite you into their house if you just happen to park nearby.
“Even (while stationed) in Afghanistan, there were some of the nicest people I ever met. One guy on a plane found out I was working on helicopters so he gave me his watch, kissed me on the cheek and walked off the plane. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it so I asked other people around if I was supposed to give it to someone else, and they said, ‘No it’s a gift.’ Here they are, getting bombed, and this guy still does something like that.”
At CU, Lynn, 28, is interested in several specialties, particularly surgery.
“Cutting into people and fixing them. I think that comes along with being a mechanic. I like working with my hands – fixing things with my hands. I’m infatuated with how amazing the human body is.”
He plans to break away from time to time to snowboard or camp. And he’s not done traveling.
“I’ve been to 31 countries so far, but that’s a small dent in the 195 countries out there. My goal before I leave this earth is to see all of them. It’s doable.”