The last time Lt. Col. Timothy Plackett, DO, MPH, worked in Chicago, he was a surgical resident soaking up knowledge from attendings, co-workers, and anybody else who might help improve his skill. Drinking from a firehose, but in a good way, is how he described it.
Dr. Plackett is back in town, and hundreds of surgeries and military service for nearly two decades have flipped the script. It’s very much a student-becomes-the-teacher story. As part of a partnership between the U.S. Army and the University of Chicago Medicine, Dr. Plackett is leading a program that trains Army medical personnel while providing critical care to patients at the academic medical center on Chicago’s South Side.
Dr. Plackett said he is thrilled to be home and grateful to be part of a program that gives back to the community. Much of Chicago is like he remembers – with one game-changing exception.
“The biggest change is that UChicago Medicine is back to being a trauma center and the care available to this community is so much better,” Dr. Plackett said. “It’s a giant step forward. Before May 2018, before it reopened, if you were a trauma patient, you were in for a long ride. That time is huge for the survival of a patient.”
Improving care for Chicago trauma patients and soldiers is what the Army Medicine Department Military-Civilian Trauma Team Training program offers.
The program provides Army personnel serving on forward resuscitative surgical teams with the opportunity to sharpen and maintain their clinical skills. They work at leading trauma centers across the country, like the one at the UChicago Medicine, where they collaborate with and learn from their civilian colleagues.
The program also brings the military’s medical experience to partnering trauma centers.
Meeting a need
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Dr. Plackett, whose own skills are staying sharp because he’s performing about 50% more surgeries than he did on the military base. “Many of the students, residents and nurses say that they enjoy hearing the army perspective and hearing about how we do things. There are best practices we can learn from each other.”
Army medical personnel will train at the UChicago Medicine through embedded or short-term rotational assignments. Those who are embedded will live in Chicago and work as full-time staff for up to three years.
Eventually, as many as 30 Army medical personnel will train in Chicago each year, including surgeons, emergency physicians, emergency and critical care nurses, anesthesiologists and certified nurse anesthetists, combat medics, operating room technicians, licensed practical nurses and clinicians in other surgical subspecialties.
Military service a natural fit
Dr. Plackett arrived in January and certainly didn’t need help finding the place.
He grew up in the Chicago suburbs and earned his DO at the Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. Before joining the Army in 2003, he finished up residency by working rotations at several hospitals in Chicago, including those on the South Side and in the south suburbs.
Dr. Plackett’s path to the military was a natural fit as both of his grandfathers served – one was a machine gun school instructor at Fort Irwin in California the day Pearl Harbor was attacked and later served in World War II. The other drove a Higgins Boat on D Day. Dr. Plackett has served since 2003 and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Before arriving at UChicago Medicine, he was commander of the 759th Forward Resuscitative Surgical Team in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
His path to medicine also involved a family member.
Dr. Plackett’s father worked in health care administration and often told stories at the dinner table about people helping other people.
“It planted a seed that this was a great way to help my community, and it’s a good job,” he said. “That’s when it all started, and I realized that the osteopathic approach really meshed with my way of seeing things, so I naturally gravitated to an osteopathic program. I love being a DO. The DO approach to the whole human and that your spiritual and mental well-being has a lot to do with your overall health; that’s the part of osteopathic medicine that we’ve done a good job of fostering. What makes us distinct is manipulative medicine. I still do manipulation when I treat patients.”
The volume of traumatic injuries among the patient population the UChicago Medicine’s trauma center serves continues to be high. That’s what made the trauma center so important for the community—and that’s why the extra military physicians training in the program are serving a critical need.
“Unfortunately, the number of injuries that occur on the South Side is very high,” Dr. Plackett said. “The staff there has done an amazing job the past three years. To have an additional trauma surgeon as part of this program helps meet the need, and the chance to learn from each other is extremely valuable.”
UChicago Medicine’s comprehensive trauma program cared for about 4,400 adult and pediatric patients in 2020.
About 57% of the adult trauma patients had blunt trauma injuries from incidents such as car accidents and falls. An additional 41% had penetrating trauma wounds, often from shootings or stabbings, and 2% had other types of injuries, such as burns.
“When you’re on a military installation as a member of a medical team, you’re not doing a lot of trauma care every day. Military hospitals mainly provide health care services to a young healthy population, so there are rarely the types of injuries you’d see in a busy civilian trauma center that regularly treats people who’ve been in high-speed crashes or drive-by shootings. So, it can be a steep learning curve to go from that kind of environment to someplace like Syria,” said Kenneth L. Wilson, MD, the medical director of the University of Chicago Medicine’s trauma center, in a statement.
Dr. Plackett is grateful for the opportunity to train a new generation of military surgeons.
“Somebody took the time to teach us,” he said. “We have to give back. You get to extend your reach to those individuals. They carry that to their patients. That’s how we help.”