I remember distinctly the day that changed the way I thought and changed my life’s mission into the direction I’ve taken over the past decade.
It was March 2, 2004 in Iraq – a day that was pivotal for me and really drove my mission in healthcare. I was in Bagdad; it was a hot day, and it was a religious holiday. It was Ashura, the most important holy day on the Shiite Muslim calendar. There were thousands of people marching on the road. They were the faithful, the hopeful, the committed – they’re marching on this religious holiday, and mingled in with that crowd were suicide bombers. They detonated themselves. All of a sudden, this peaceful, religious observance turned into a scene of complete chaos.
Suddenly there were dozens and dozens of injured lying all over the place. Smoke and dust from the explosions drifted through the air. Screams rang out from all along the road. I was the only physician anywhere near the scene, somewhere around 800 meters away from the area of the detonations. Our team rushed into the middle of it all, and at that moment, immersed in the chaos, everything went into slow motion. I looked around, and I was wondering, how am I going to address all these patients? How am I going to get to everyone and see everyone and help everyone? It was an overwhelming thought.
But in slow motion, in my mind, I saw our medics moving into action. They were functioning autonomously. They were tying tourniquets, they were starting airway devices, they were patching up holes in chests, and at that moment, I was very grateful that we had taken the time to train those medics. Because by training those medics, I had multiplied myself. One physician can’t reach all these patients, but by training the medics, I had multiplied myself and we were able to address those casualties.
You’ve likely heard the term “single-payer” used during the course of discussions of how to solve the problems America is having in ironing out a healthcare system that works for all the people.
I’ve had some experience in a single-payer system of healthcare – the US military. I trained and worked in single-payer for over a decade when I was an Army doctor. I was both patient and provider. And I’ve got one thing to say about it: Don’t be disillusioned. Single-payer is not something that will solve all our healthcare concerns. It’s one option being discussed, but it’s not the golden ticket, if you will. Nothing is, actually. It certainly has its advantages, but there also are disadvantages that the American public may not like. There are good things and bad things about almost any healthcare proposal. It seems to me that in America, we’re at a crossroads of looking for the lesser of evils when it comes to healthcare.
So let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly as it relates to a single-payer system.
Let’s start out by defining what single-payer healthcare is. This explanation that you can find on Wikipedia seems as good as any:
Getting shot at tends to get you focused very quickly and very specifically on what you need to do to take control and eliminate the threat. I mean that literally; I learned that on the battlefields of Iraq. It’s the kind of thing that creates instant leadership. You figure out how to overcome the problem in front of you, or you very possibly will die.
In the medical arena, when I was an intern, I faced my first “code” patient. “Code” is doctor talk for cardiopulmonary arrest – a heart stopping – in a patient in a hospital. When that happens, there are codes associated with each patient that determine the level of response by a medical code team – all the way from a full code, where every effort is made to resuscitate someone, to a limited code, to a “DNR,” or Do Not Resuscitate. A code team of medical professionals will rush to the patient and immediately begin appropriate medical treatment. On my first code response, I rushed into the room and froze. I didn’t really know what to do. And I remember the eyes on me, watching my inaction. I knew from that day on, that I needed to know what was going on. I learned that if I was going to be a leader, I had a need to learn what to do when I come face to face with a pulseless patient. Because when a patient codes, you need to take control, and you need to act quickly and decisively. You need to lead. I needed to learn fast, and I needed to continue to learn.
At no other time on earth has the pace of change been so rapid. At no other time in history have leaders had to understand and process so much information to arrive at a decision. Also, at no other time have such diverse generations been in the work force – Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millenials – and they each have such a diverse work ethic and a divergent sense of reward.
The creation of TheBattleContinues.org was a very important step for me that allowed me to transition from being a front line Army doctor treating all manner of battle wounds to an emergency room doctor to becoming an entrepreneur who can affect change and help improve veterans’ lives in a very direct way.
In the years leading up to the launch of TheBattleContinues.org, I frequently got involved in activities that would help raise funds for our nation’s veterans. I was happy to do that. But one of the things that struck me regarding these fund-raisers was that the amount of money that went to overhead and administration within these charities seemed too much – even among the best of them. And the best of them run at about a 25 percent overhead related to administrative and fundraising expenses relative to the amount of expenses that actually go to the programs and services a top charity delivers.
I thought I could do better than that.
TheBattleContinues.org is an organization founded on the idea that even after serving our country abroad, the battle for many veterans and their families continues at home. As a combat physician, Army war veteran and Bronze Star recipient, I wanted to establish TheBattleContinues.org to help alleviate many of the burdens veterans come home carrying while simultaneously promoting improved health and well-being. The Battle Continues Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization aimed to raise awareness and help veterans who have returned from war; 100 percent of money donated to the organization goes towards assisting and supporting veterans.
I joined the Army at the age of 21 and was an officer in the Army for 12 years. It was a great way to serve my country. I’m very thankful for the incredible opportunities that my parents have received, and I’ve received as a result, after they immigrated to America. I was fortunate enough to have done my undergraduate pre-med work at a top school in Chicago, Northwestern University, and went there for medical school as well to become a doctor. I was a practicing emergency medicine physician in the Army, and on Sept. 11, 2001, I joined an infantry unit, and I had the honor of serving on the front lines in Iraq during the Iraq War. And it’s that experience on the front lines of combat as well as the front lines of the emergency room that I hope to use to help others through TheBattleContinues.org.