Saving the Brave: Doctors’ Day honors sacrifice of doctors

  • Published
  • By Shari Lopatin
  • TriWest
Navy clinical psychologist Heidi Kraft, Ph.D., learned her toughest lesson in Iraq.

She wrote a moving memoir, "Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital," about her time serving and titled it after a line from the television show M*A*S*H:

"There are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can't change rule number one."

This quote didn't just hit home for Dr. Kraft. In fact, it sums up what so many military doctors face on a regular basis. They have many stories, but one reality.

Their service to this country and their fellow men and women in uniform is extraordinary. That's why Doctors' Day on Monday, March 30 recognizes and honors all they do.

"One of the best things about being a military doctor is the feeling you have when you're part of a team--not just a medical team--but the overall mission," said Frank Maguire, M.D., who served as a Marine battalion surgeon. Today, Maguire (USN, ret.) is the senior vice-president of health care services and chief medical officer for TriWest Healthcare Alliance, which administers the TRICARE health benefit in 21 western states. 

Although military doctors deliver babies, listen to elderly heartbeats and treat the average cold, they are unique from their civilian counterparts. Their patients are often young, healthy soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that all too often die or face life-altering changes. That's a lot to take in, day after day.

"You'd be looking at somebody without a leg, and they'd be asking about one of their buddies," Maguire said. "And boy, if that doesn't touch you . . ."

Breaking bad news to families, watching young men and women lose limbs: military doctors do this over and over again. The toll it takes is unavoidable. So they cope by surrounding themselves with others who have lived through similar experiences. Support is the key to sanity in this world of military medicine.

And sometimes, the doctors themselves don't make it.

During a March 11 ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery honoring fallen military medics, Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said, "Their motto is 'Good medicine, bad places.' When it mattered most, they answered the call."
Those that left the war zone alive will always remember their time serving. Throughout her book, Dr. Kraft reminisces over the experiences that fueled her emotions from exhilaration to heartbreak.

"Walking, every day, and having literally every single person who passes by say 'Oo-rah, Ma'am'...meeting the one who threw himself on a grenade to save the men at his patients, some of them had courage unlike anything I've ever experienced before. And last, but not least... holding the hand of that dying Marine."

Military doctors don't do their jobs for the money. They don't do it for the recognition. They do it for the service, for the people.

They do it because it's the right thing to do.

And perhaps that's why they deserve their special day.