<--GAT-->
Non-Clinical Topics

VA Surgeon Sees His Role as ‘Pillar of Hope’ for Veteran Patients

by Stephen Spotswood

August 8, 2018
Harry Marshall, MD, chief of surgery and director of surgical critical care at the Washington, DC, VAMC

WASHINGTON, DC—The theme of this year’s Harlem Fine Arts Show—the largest touring African diasporic art show in the United States—is “Health and the Healing Power of Art.” Its goal is to showcase people in the field doing exemplary work and to raise awareness of medicine as a viable career choice for young African-Americans.

Harry Marshall, MD, chief of surgery and director of surgical critical care at the Washington, DC, VAMC, was one of those honored at the show’s opening night ceremony in June. A U.S. Army veteran with a 30-year career in military medicine, Marshall never needed anyone to point out medicine as a viable choice. With a chemist father and a nurse mother, the sciences were always part of his life. And he knew he wanted to be a surgeon from a very young age.

“When I was growing up, we had a kitten. One day it got caught on a fishhook. This kitten was screaming and crying, and my two sisters were running up and crying. So I grab this kitten that’s scratching the bejesus out of me, pull the hook out of its mouth and save the day. I think that sparked something in me,” Marshall explained. “I enjoyed helping people. I saw I could cure something with my hands.”

Marshall went on to receive a Bachelor of Science from Morehouse College and his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine in 1984. But, while he embraced a path toward medicine very young, a life in the military was never part of his plan. “My father was a reserve Army officer, and he told me to think about the military. But this was back in the ’70s when our country’s love affair with the military wasn’t like it is now,” Marshall recounted. “He had two of us in college, and you can imagine the financial burden. After my second year, he came to me and said, ‘What do you think about ROTC?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, in the way that only fathers can, ‘I don’t think you understand.’”

With his family’s financial health at stake, Marshall traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for ROTC basic training and, to his surprise, fell immediately in love with the Army. After his internship, he spent four years on active duty, serving as a flight surgeon and general surgeon in Korea, then returned home to complete his surgical training at Georgetown University.

What followed was a 25-year career as a citizen soldier that included two tours as a trauma surgeon in Iraq and one as a flight surgeon in Kuwait. What struck Marshall most about his time in deployment was the diversity and unity of the soldiers he was supporting.

“These are men and women of all ethnic and racial backgrounds who have come together for a common cause. And that’s one thing, especially during this time, that has always given me faith in the American people,” Marshall said. “And it’s something that impacts how I treat these veterans here at the VA. We have a common understanding.”

Marshall had long had his eye on a job in the VA healthcare system—a goal that was only reinforced after time spent in the private sector. “I had an incident where a business manager came to me with a list of 10 patients, each of whom had a dollar figure attached to them. He asked me, “‘What do you want to do with these patients?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He looked at me, perplexed. ‘I mean, do you want to send them to collections?’ I didn’t get into the business of caring for people to send them to collections.”

As the DC VAMC’s chief of general surgery, Marshall gets to spend his days worrying about his patient’s health, rather than how they’re going to pay their bill—a life much more in line with what he imagined when he saved his family’s kitten all those years ago. Although, with a lifetime of experience behind him, he has a much broader view of a VA surgeon’s responsibilities.

“As a surgeon and as a physician, I view my job as much more than reaching into someone’s body and, hopefully, doing the right thing and having a good outcome,” Marshall said. “I also see myself as one of the patient’s pillars of hope. For veterans who have served this country, either foreign or domestic or just in training, it has taken a toll. And that toll can be mental, physical, or emotional. For them to have someone who can relate to them is important. And I’m honored to be able to stand in that gate and be there for the guys who go outside the wire.”


Comments are closed here.


Related Articles

Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past. Tryon Edwards (1809-1894)

The Department of Defense recently underwent an internal review of opioid use within three major military treatment facilities through the Inspector General office. The report remains preliminary and has not yet been released to the... View Article

New Device Improves Balance in 100% of Veterans with Gulf War Illness

A new device that corrects vestibular dysfunction could be a key to treating many of the symptoms affecting the approximately 300,000 veterans who suffer from Gulf War Illness.


U.S. Medicine Recommends


More From news

News

Suicide Rates Jump Up for Younger Veterans in Recent Years

Rates of suicide among younger veterans (ages 18-34) “increased substantially in recent years,” climbing from 40.4 suicide deaths per 100,000 population in 2015 to 45 suicide deaths per 100,000 population in 2016, according to a new report.

News

Two-Thirds of VAMCs Improved Quality, Efficiency in Recent Assessment

More than half of 15 VAMCs classified as “high risk” in the October 2017 Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning report moved out of that category in the most recent update. But one, the DCVAMC in Washington declined and is now considered “critical.”

News

VHA Accountability Unclear for Assuring Medical Equipment Sterility

Who is responsible for VHA's sterile processing reusable medical equipment is unclear, and the lack of accountability needs to be addressed, agency officials told lawmakers.

News

House Passes Bill to Improve Hiring, Retention at VHA

A three-year pilot program to provide undergraduate students a clinical observation experience within VA is called for in a bill recently passed by the House of Representatives.

News

Legislators Question Governance of VA EHR Implementation

How much will implementation and integration of a new electronic health record slow down processes at the VA, which already struggles with delays in care?

Subscribe to U.S. Medicine Print Magazine

U.S. Medicine is mailed free each month to physicians, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and administrators working for Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense and U.S. Public Health Service.

Subscribe Now

Receive Our Email Newsletter

Stay informed about federal medical news, clinical updates and reports on government topics for the federal healthcare professional.

Sign Up