ARMED WITH MEDICAL SKILLS, FACULTY MEMBERS SERVE IN THE RESERVES.
Medical Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1999
© Case Western Reserve University
Source: www.casemed.case.edu , the official website of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Their colleagues in Cleveland often see them in white lab coats, but others with whom they work might more easily recognize them in the military garb they don several days a year as they serve their country as reservists.
Melvin Berger, M.D., Ph.D., is professor of pediatrics and pathology at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and chief of the division of immunology/allergy/rheumatology at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital (RB&C). A 1976 graduate of the CWRU medical school who also earned his Ph.D. and undergraduate degrees at CWRU, he is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
John Carl, M.D., is assistant professor of pediatrics at CWRU and a member of the division of pediatric pulmonology at RB&C. He is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
John Schreiber, M.D., M.P.H., is associate professor of pediatrics at CWRU and chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at RB&C. He is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
In their civilian lives, all three work in the same area, pediatrics, but the paths that led them to military service are varied.
"I did my fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, and I was part of the Public Health Service [PHS]," Dr. Berger said, explaining that the PHS is a uniformed service with ranks comparable to those of the military. "I had part of my training at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.] and was offered a faculty position there when I finished my fellowship, so I switched from the PHS to the Army when I took the faculty position. When I left Walter Reed to come here about 15 years ago, I stayed in the Army Reserve."
Dr. Schreiber received his medical education at Tulane University in New Orleans and joined the Reserve in 1984 when he was a fellow in infectious diseases at Boston Children's Hospital. In addition to other reasons, he said, he joined the Reserve because "this country has been very good to my family. We were approaching our 100th anniversary in the United States, and it seemed like a good thing to do to pay back the country. I know it sounds corny, but that's how I felt." He's worked in Cleveland since 1988.
Dr. Carl is relatively new to the Reserve, but he's no stranger to military ways or public service. He had attended a military prep school before earning his undergraduate degree at CWRU in 1978, then went on to do health policy work for advocacy groups in the nation's capital before attending George Washington University there, where he earned his medical degree in 1985. At medical school, he said, "about 40 percent of my class was either in the PHS or on a military scholarship." Dr. Carl was a member of the former group, although he never actually worked for the PHS. Instead, he transitioned his service obligation to a National Research Service Award, which allowed him to fulfill his goal of being a research-oriented academic physician. He's been fulfilling that obligation at CWRU since 1992.
Although Dr. Carl couldn't comment much on the life of a reservist, because he's relatively new to the Reserve, he did have positive things to say about the Health Professions Scholarship Program—available through the PHS and the Army, Navy and Air Force—which helped finance his medical education. "It was my ticket to medical school," he said. "For many students, it's an excellent way to fund a medical education." About 30 CWRU medical students are taking advantage of the program, estimated Dr. Berger, who acts as a faculty adviser to them. (To learn more about the scholarship program, contact the medical school's financial aid office at  368-3666 for general information or a particular branch of service for specific information.)
What it means
Military service for these physicians generally means one weekend of time every month and two weeks of active duty a year, in addition to any service required because of a national emergency. Duties may range from performing physical examinations locally to attending clinical specialty meetings to participating in exercises at a medical training base to providing humanitarian aid.
Dr. Berger has gone on missions in such places as Panama, Honduras and Ecuador. Also, he's been called up to active duty twice, once in 1991 for Desert Storm, and again in 1997 to assist with the peace effort in Bosnia. For Desert Storm, he was sent to Walter Reed for three months, in case he was needed to treat war casualties. Fortunately, there weren't as many casualties as expected, so he spent the time in a research laboratory. For the peace effort in Bosnia, he spent a month in training and seven months providing medical support at a staging base in Hungary.
Dr. Schreiber, in his military life as a flight surgeon—"I'm not somebody who does surgery in flight, but a physician who takes care of the aircraft crew members." Dr. Schreiber has been "pretty much all over the world" on humanitarian airlift missions. Also, he was called up for Desert Storm for three months in 1991. "I had orders to go to Saudi Arabia," he said, "but I was diverted to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, where I did aeromedical triaging on war casualties for about a month, followed by two months of work in flight medicine and pediatrics when the war ended more quickly than expected." With 250 hours of flight time, Dr. Schreiber recently went on inactive status to be able to spend more time with his family, but the possibility remains that he could be called on in the event of a national emergency.
Along the way, these doctors' medical skills have helped them with their military duties, and their military duties have enhanced the work they do in their civilian positions. For example, Dr. Berger said, "The human resources skills I've learned are quite important. Also, in military life, you get a refresher in general medicine. I keep up certain skills—advanced cardiac life support, advanced trauma life support—that I would not normally use in my job here."
Dr. Schreiber agreed. "I had a master's in public health and tropical medicine, but it was very rusty. The military experience complemented things in infectious diseases that I might not necessarily see in Cleveland."
And they have gained additional benefits that don't directly relate to the medical profession. Dr. Schreiber said that his time in the Reserve "left me with the knowledge that the military has made diversity work and that it is an American strength. When you deploy to other countries, they're mostly homogeneous. Our unit was multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural, and we got along well. Wherever we went—Europe, South America, Central America—we had somebody who had grandparents or great-grandparents from that country, and it gave us an immediate bond with those people." Also, he said, "I got to travel all over the world" and made lifelong friends.
Passing the torch
These three pediatricians continue a legacy of military service that includes one of their colleagues, Alfred Heggie, M.D., a pediatrics professor who in 1989 retired from 32 years of service in the Naval Reserve. But military experience isn't limited to the pediatrics department. Carl Asseff, M.D., J.D., M.B.A., an assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology, has served in the Naval Reserve for six years and had served in the Army Reserve for 10 years.
The commitment these faculty members have made—and the support it requires from others—is not lost on the community at large, as was recently discovered by more than a dozen CWRU medical students in the Health Professions Scholarship Program, who have pledged to make the same commitment. At a dinner they attended to get to know reservist faculty members, George Qua, chairman of the Northeast Ohio Committee of the Department of Defense National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, presented Nathan A. Berger, M.D., CWRU vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine (and brother of the aforementioned Dr. Berger), with a plaque honoring the medical school and its employees for supporting reservist faculty and staff.
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