Robert Suter, D.O.’89, M.H.A.’89, knows how to take care of a guy who’s been shot in the chest. But he also knows “how you do so in a tent when you have limited resources and the guy has to be evacuated,” says Navy Captain Trueman Sharp, M.D. He has never forgotten the benefits of his DMU education and the osteopathic profession. He’s devoted his life to paying them back and paying it forward to medical students and military medics.
Suter joined the military on his 17th birthday and has been in the reserves since the 1990s. He is professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and professor of military and emergency medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. Every summer over the past decade, he spends three days training nearly 200 fourth-year medical students at Fort Indiantown Gap, a 19,000-acre military training camp in Pennsylvania.
“For students, it’s a very intense experience as if they’re in the middle of a war, with casualties, rocket fire, laws of war problems, psychological issues and dealing with the media,” says Sharp, chair of the department of military and emergency medicine, Uniformed Services University. “It’s remarkable that someone of Col. Suter’s seniority wants to come. He’s an expert medically and an extremely effective educator both on management of injuries and how to be a military officer.”
For his professional leadership in his field and in the American College of Emergency Physicians, ACEP honored Suter last October with its highest honor, the John G. Wiegenstein Leadership Award. Named after the recognized founder of emergency medicine and ACEP’s co-founder and first president, the award is given at most once a year and not at all if the organization’s awards committee decides none of the nominees is worthy.
“As I considered Dr. Wiegenstein a friend and mentor, it is very humbling to be selected for such a prestigious award,” says Suter, an ACEP fellow.
Suter became the first person to work full-time as an emergency medical technician and paramedic in 1979, the year the American Board of Medical Specialties approved emergency medicine as the 23rd U.S. medical specialty.
He was the first osteopathic emergency physician to serve as president of ACEP, which has more than 28,000 members and 53 chapters representing the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and military/government branches.
The Wiegenstein Award wasn’t Suter’s first honor. In 2008, he received the award of “A” proficiency designator, the highest honor given by the Army Medical Department to recognize professional expertise, exceptional ability and achievement in clinical and academic medicine.
The secretary-treasurer of the DMU College of Osteopathic Medicine Alumni Board, Suter is an ardent advocate for both osteopathic medicine and his alma mater. “Dr. Suter is the epitome of what you’d want as an alumni leader,” says Ronnette Vondrak, DMU alumni director. “He’s a passionate advocate and a sincere, humble person who has served so many – his country, his patients, fellow physicians and students.”
In December, Suter was ordered to Iraq as a brigade surgeon, where he expected to work closely with combat troops in the field. There he will continue using his expertise in emergency medicine and as a teacher.
“To me, teaching is a way of leveraging your impact on the world and making a bigger difference than you ever can by yourself. By giving knowledge to your students, you can exponentially increase your contribution to patients’ lives,” he says. “In addition, teaching drives you to stay on top of your game as a scientist and clinician.”