Medical School: Des Moines University
Residency: Brooke Army Medical Center
Current Position: Emergency Medicine Consultant (USAR) to the Surgeon General; Professor of Military and Emergency Medicine, Uniformed Services University; Professor
of Emergency Medicine, UT Southwestern Medical School
Standout Volunteer Roles
EMRA President, 1991-92; ACEP Council, 1991-99; ACEP President; 2004-05; EMF Chair 2005-06; IFEM President, 2006; AAEM Board 2011-2017; ACOEP Board and President-Elect (currently serving)
It’s hard to know where to start when explaining Dr. Robert Suter’s contributions to emergency medicine. Stretching back to residency — when he served as EMRA President — he has advocated for the specialty and built bridges between emergency medicine and the rest of the world (literally). All the while, he has served in the U.S. Army, crisscrossing the globe to care for patients. This penchant for championing emergency medicine globally while building up his colleagues internally is part of the reason he is decorated with a mile-long list of awards (including EMRA’s highest honor, the Joseph F. Waeckerle Founders Award).
What’s Dr. Suter’s advice for the medical students and residents of today?
Probably because it was the best fit for my somewhat ADD/OCD personality and as a new specialty the opportunities to make a difference were wide open, which was also attractive. Combined with experiences with providing first aid that led to becoming an EMS provider, it made me want to do emergency care, although because of the state of the specialty in the 1980s it was only after my first year of medical school that I really understood what Emergency Medicine was as an academic discipline.
If you were in medical school now, what would you do differently?
Nothing, because I have been very lucky, so the result been a great ride. That said, my advice to today’s students who want to do emergency medicine is to prioritize studying and doing well academically, then make the world a better place with the energy you have left. Our specialty is just too competitive to do otherwise. Once you have that residency spot you can rebalance. Also, get involved in your school’s EM group and network; you will benefit in the short run and if you are wise will develop ongoing lifetime friendships that will enrich and ground you, even if it is only by getting together at national EM meetings.
Best career insight you want to pass along?
Prepare yourself educationally to make a difference, then when opportunity knocks, answer the door without hesitation and make it happen! When you do this early in your career you build a track record that you can benefit from the rest of your life.
What can the average emergency physician learn from military medicine?
Since EMS, disaster, public/population health, and wilderness medicine are all subspecialties or overlap significantly with EM, most of the big lessons from military medicine are well-known. In addition, our practice in the ED involves leading a multidisciplinary team by our example and expertise, also akin to military medicine. So, for the most part our professional knowledge is pretty intertwined. That’s why the military has recently significantly increased the number of positions for emergency physicians and is recruiting hard to bring more of us in, especially into the Guard and Reserve.
How do you prevent burnout?
Professionally, by working to impact the big picture, including teaching and organizational/committee work. The worst thing you can do is narrowly focus on things that upset you that you feel you can’t change. Personally, spending time with my family and making that more of a priority, including playing ice hockey with my sons.
2 things on your desk right now?
Global History of EM project and family vacation plans
What goes on pizza?
Everything except anchovies and pineapple
How do you get your exercise?
I run 5 miles every day, or walk it if sick or injured, and look for opportunities to play sports, including ice hockey, whenever I can.