Dr. Norman Rich recognized for lifetime contribution to military surgery


Retired U.S. Army Colonel Norman M. Rich, MD, FACS, DMCC, MC, of Rockville, Md., has received the first American College of Surgeons (ACS) Distinguished Military Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes Dr. Rich’s outstanding contributions to military surgery and his pioneering work in modern vascular surgery.

Dr. Rich received the achievement award during the convocation ceremony preceding the opening of the ACS Clinical Congress 2019 in San Francisco. According to the award citation, his “expertise has brought vascular injury management into a new age, particularly with arteriovenous injuries to the extremity that spared many soldiers from limb amputation or death.”

Pioneering work in Vietnam

As chief of surgery for the 2nd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit during the Vietnam War, Dr. Rich refined vascular surgical techniques, particularly for arteriovenous injuries to the extremity, emphasizing the importance of venous and arterial system repairs. His expertise and newly espoused techniques helped save scores of soldiers from limb amputation or death, leading him to be known as the surgeon who heralded a new age in vascular injury management, with particular focus on venous reconstruction.

In 1966, he created the Vietnam Vascular Registry, which now contains data on more than 10,000 reported cases treated by surgeons involved in vascular trauma during wars or conflicts. Both military and civilian patients have benefitted from the insights derived from this database.

Long career in military surgery

Dr. Rich became chief of vascular surgery and director of the vascular fellowship program at Walter Reed General Hospital in 1967, a post he held until 1978. He was appointed professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) School of Medicine in 1976, and he became the first chairman of the department of surgery in 1977.

At the time of his retirement from active duty in 1980, he made a second commitment to serve as chairman. He served as chief, division of vascular surgery (1977-99), and director of the Vietnam Vascular Registry. He was the academic advisor to the department of surgery and co-directed the vascular fellowship program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1978 onward. He was appointed professor of military medicine in 1983.

Dr. Rich became the Leonard Heaton and David Packard Professor in 1999. He stepped down as the founding chairman of surgery in October 13, 2002, after more than 25 years of service, and USUHS announced the establishment of the Norman M. Rich Department of Surgery.

When his successor, 1982 USUHS graduate Colonel David Burris, MD, FACS, deployed to Iraq in 2003, Dr. Rich stepped in as acting chairman. With the untimely death of Colonel Burris in August 2010, Dr. Rich continued to serve as deputy chairman with Captain USN Patricia L. McKay, MD, FACS, as interim chair.

Dr. Rich became Professor Emeritus in Surgery in 2018 after 42 years at USUHS (58 years total in the Department of Defense). He served as Senior Adviser to the third USU chair of surgery, Eric A. Elster, working with him and David B. Hoyt, MD, FACS, ACS Executive Director, in the early development of the Military Health System Strategic Partnership American College of Surgeons (MHSSPACS).

Dr. Rich served on the ACS Committee on Trauma (COT) from 1980 to 1995. He became an Instructor for the ACS Advanced Trauma Life Support® course in 1980 and received the 2003 Surgeons’ Award for Service to Safety from the ACS, the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST), and the National Safety Council.

In 2014, he delivered the Excelsior Surgical Society/Edward D. Churchill Lecture at the 100th Clinical Congress and received the First Distinguished Organization Award from the ACS Foundation in 2015 for the Norman M. Rich Department of Surgery’s efforts to establish the USU Surgical Associates’ Military Professor of Surgery Fund at the ACS. He became the first Honorary Member of the revitalized Excelsior Surgical Society at the ACS Clinical Congress in 2016.

Dr. Rich has earned international recognition and lectured in more than 45 countries. He has published more than 300 manuscripts and has been the author or co-author of five books, including the first edition of Vascular Trauma, written with ACS Past-President Frank C. Spencer, MD, FACS, as well as two subsequent editions of the textbook. He has served on 10 editorial boards of clinical journals, including Journal of Trauma.

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