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Physician Spotlight: Physicians Who’ve Served Our Country

March 15, 2018

Orthopedic Surgeon Jeffrey Leary, MD, Air Force 

 When he was not embedded full time at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Level 1 Trauma Center, Jeffrey Leary, MD, was part of an eight-person Special Ops surgical team that supported Special Forces in dangerous hot spots around the world. Each of the members of Dr. Leary’s team carried a 30-pound backpack system; as a group, they were able to set up and run a miniaturized, fully functional OR/ICU system complete with blood transfusion capabilities. 

 The group would be helicoptered into a different base every few days, sometimes in the middle of the night, in advance of the soldiers who “kicked down doors and dealt with the bad guys,” says Dr. Leary, currently the director of fracture services for Overlook Medical Center. “We brought the hospital to the fight instead of bringing the fight to the hospital, and we brought the ability to transfuse. We were the insurance policy for these guys – we made sure they all came back to tell their stories. There were some who probably would have died if we were not there. These soldiers were the best of the best, and yet they were excited to have us there. We were equally respected for what we brought to the fight.”

Cardiologist Steven Sheris, MD, Navy 

 For Steven Sheris, MD, Senior Vice President of Physician Enterprise for Atlantic Health System, military service was a pathway to medical school. “In the 1980s,” he explains, “interest rates were in the double digits. The prospect of taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans didn’t make sense.” Through a Health Professions Scholarship – in which participants owe one year of active-duty service for every year of medical school the military pays for – Dr. Sheris was able to avoid that debt and gain a strong foundation. “In addition to getting superb medical training, you are offered leadership opportunities that you just don’t get in a civilian training program,” he says. 

 While stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in the early 1990s, Dr. Sheris was a Battalion Surgeon – he kept 900 Marines and their families healthy and safe, and also trained 40 corpsmen. “There is nothing like a crisis to make you grow up quickly,” he says. “The prospect of nuclear, biologic, and chemical warfare being waged by Saddam Hussein after invading Kuwait was the real deal.” Not long ago, Dr. Sheris heard from some of those corpsmen. “They expressed appreciation for everything I had done for them. These are the kids I had trained who went to Saudi Arabia. They took the time to thank me – but it was an honor and a privilege for me to have trained them. Putting time and talent into the service of others is the greatest measure of success.”

Orthopedic Surgeon Scott Clark-Schoeb, MD, Navy

On a particularly memorable day in July 2005, Scott Clark-Schoeb, MD, was just minutes into his shift at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, CA, where he had been stationed just a couple of weeks, when he was paged to the emergency room.

A Marine had accidentally shot another young Marine through both hands while they were cleaning their rifles after a day in the field. Dr. Clark-Schoeb remembers the incident vividly due to the unusual circumstances, but also because of how the injured Marine responded. “He was quite stoic and composed – until he learned that his injury would prevent him from deploying to Iraq in the next couple of weeks,” recalls Dr. Clark-Schoeb. “When he realized he would not be deploying with his comrades, that’s when he started to cry. That’s just how the Marines are – they are a team. If one person goes down, they all go down.”

Dr. Clark-Schoeb operated on the young Marine, he recovered, and he deployed 12 weeks later. But it was not unusual for Dr. Clark- Schoeb to deal with Marines who sustained very serious injuries that were not going to get any better, and he still draws on those experiences. “They made the most of what they were given and what they still had,” he says. “Today I’m able to give patients perspective on their injury or disability, or lack thereof, and motivate them.”

Orthopedic Surgeon Matthew Garberina, MD, Air Force

Matthew Garberina, MD, attended Notre Dame on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, completed a civilian residency at Duke University, and then returned to military service as one of two orthopedic surgeons at McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County.

He credits his years at McGuire for helping to shape him as the physician he is today. “In the military, you’re given a lot of responsibility. You sink or swim, and get good at organizing your time,” he says. “The military population is a unique subset of the American population – they are very easy to take care of, very trusting of their physicians, and very motivated to get back to what they do. It humbles you and makes you want to do all you can to make them well. It teaches you to treat people with respect and honor. I feel grateful for the opportunity I was given by my country. As a doctor, I have an opportunity to give a little back.”

Cardiologist Edwin Blumberg, MD, Army

In 1970, two years out of Columbia Medical School, Edwin Blumberg, MD, was drafted into the Vietnam War and was assigned to the surgeon general’s office in Saigon for a year. There he advised on the treatment of both civilians and the military population for the gamut of preventive health conditions: malaria, venereal disease, black plague and more.

In his position as a captain, Dr. Blumberg even got to interact with the mayor of Saigon. “It was like getting off a merry-go-round and stepping into a world you never knew existed,” he says of his two years in Vietnam. “It broadened my perspective of medicine.”

Gynecologic Oncologist Paul Heller, MD, Army

In the 1970s, following time in the Army Reserves, Paul Heller, MD, had one goal in mind: How do I get back to active duty, and how do I get back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center? It was there, among some of the finest minds in medicine, that he had seen some of the most innovative care.

“Walter Reed isn’t a place where everyone comes from the same place, from the same background,” he says. “Not everyone trains the same way. I met people from all over the country – Harvard, Johns Hopkins, everywhere – and we were all influenced by one another. They were the nicest and most knowledgeable people. Whatever happened in other military hospitals started at Walter Reed.”

An added bonus that Dr. Heller looks back on fondly was the view from Walter Reed. The operating room looked out over a rose garden, he recalls. “I could be operating and I could see all of these beautiful flowers out the window. There was nothing else like it.”

Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist Edward Wolf, MD, Navy

Edward Wolf, MD, carried on a proud family tradition – his grandfather served in World War I, his father in World War II – when he joined the ranks of the military, but it was also a way for him to fund his way through medical school.

Following his residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, Dr. Wolf served as a lieutenant commander on the USS Vancouver LPD-2 for more than a year. The amphibious ship carried two helicopters, small boats, and 800 Marines, and sailed to 10 different countries. “Big boys with big toys can have big injuries,” says Dr. Wolf. His time at sea was followed by three years at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD (currently Walter Reed National Military Medical Center), where he says he was “surrounded by some of the best young people in the world.”

Today he draws parallels between the military and medicine. “The military is very much a team game,” he says. “On good days, you see this through in a proud way. On bad days, you band together. That’s very much what medicine needs to be as well – working together as a team.”

Neurosurgeon Jack Knightly, MD, Navy

During his five years in the Navy Reserve and 10 years of active duty, Jack Knightly, MD, found himself in a snow cave, in the back seat of a jet, and on a military base in Okinawa, Japan. As director of a mobile medical augmentation response team – a team of surgical specialists who could deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours – he learned to build a hospital out of nothing; the team once fashioned a 30-bed hospital on a pier in the South China Sea.

“Whenever I’m asked if I would do it again, I say 100 percent. But you have to believe in systems of care and a greater calling,” he says. “The people in the military are phenomenal. They do what they do for a greater good. It’s a mindset.” He calls the Marines “one of the best agencies in the world,” lauds the military’s attention to detail, and heaps praise on the families of those in active duty.

“The hardest job in the military is being a Navy wife,” says Dr. Knightly, noting that he moved his own wife to 17 different places during the time he was in the service. “An experience like mine makes you more appreciative of what’s going on in the world around you and the sacrifices of our military families. There is nothing else like it.”