by Laura Freeman
The 20-year mark is when most military personnel think of retiring to civilian life. After 21 years in the Air Force, Ronald Roan, MD returned to the Army with the goal of completing another 20 years where his dual careers in medicine and the military began as a medic in 1990. As chief of staff at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center’s Level I Trauma Center, Roan’s latest deployment was in Iraq.
“We cared for both American and coalition forces serving in the region. In addition to patients from Iraq, we saw cases flown in from Syria and Jordan. After the war, most of the cases we see have been either medical or non-combat trauma,” Roan said. “In addition to patients from the U.S., many in our care were coalition soldiers from Spain and Poland. We also helped with medical care of local residents when we could.
“On this deployment, I also learned something new—how to treat canine soldiers who are ill or injured. The Malinois Belgian shepherds are beautiful dogs and have a very important role. In addition to guard duty and searching for explosives, they are often first in when dangerous situations arise. A great deal of training and a major investment in time and money is required to prepare the dogs for the essential work they do. There are also strong bonds between the dogs and their handlers. When a dog needs care, we do everything possible to save it and get it healthy again. That includes learning to do transfusions from dog to dog.”
Roan came home from deployment in Iraq just before Christmas and returned to his role as a hospitalist the day after.
“I work through Southern Anesthesia Management’s Intensivist Division,” he said. “The team there has been great about covering for me while I’m deployed. Although I’m board certified in anesthesia, critical care, neurocritical care and other areas, my primary interest is critical care. When I’m home, I work as an ICU hospitalist in Birmingham area medical centers.
“I’ve always found critical care interesting and challenging. When I was a medic, I realized that helping others through medicine was what I was meant to do. I used my education benefits first to become a nurse. As I worked, I wanted to learn and do more. Medical school was the next step. I enlisted in the Air Force since the educational benefits were great. The military gave me the opportunity to pursue a career I loved while seeing interesting places around the world.”
After medical school and a fellowship at UAB, Roan served as an Air Force flight surgeon. He worked as a member of the Critical Care Transport Team (CCAP) in air evacuation of high acuity patients and has been an instructor in medical training at US air bases.
Back at home, Roan’s work as an ICU hospitalist has him fighting to save lives in a daily battle with critical illnesses and injuries.
“The job of a hospitalist is overwatch, maintaining a constant presence and rounding frequently so we can respond quickly to changes in the patient’s condition,” he said. “Since I’m trained in neurocritical care, some of my patients have brain trauma. Sepsis takes so many patients is sepsis. We have to stay vigilant to prevent it and make sure we give every patient the best chance for recovery.”
Between his military duties and long hours working as a physician, finding time for a personal life could be a challenge.
“My wife Sara has been the anchor that held us all together through raising five children and moving from one base to the next. We both love to fly. She’s better than I am right now and getting more practice. My oldest son is considering going into the Air Force. I’m all for it. I tell him the Air Force offers great opportunities.”
Meanwhile, Roan has another nine years ahead of him to achieve his goal of 20 years in the Army in addition to more than that in the Air Force. His next assignment will take him to Fort Bragg as an instructor where he’ll teach advanced medical training to Army medics. Sometimes life really does have a way of going full circle.