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Find a Way to Get It Done
Q&A with Russ Frazier, MD, an anesthesiologist who took his medical skills to Ukraine shortly after it was invaded.
Publish Date: August 16, 2022   |  Tags:   Anesthesia Opinion
Dr. Frazier
How did you wind up in Ukraine providing medical services and training?
I went over there as part of a non-governmental organization called Global Surgical and Medical Support Group (GSMSG), which I’ve worked with in the past. I got a call on a Friday night and was standing in JFK Airport Saturday. We went over there two weeks after the invasion started, and we didn’t know exactly what we would be doing. 

What is it like to work with other volunteers in that environment? 
I met nine strangers standing in an airport and 15 days later it felt like we were family and best friends. We were all type-A personalities — intelligent, high-functioning people — and it’s always so inspiring to work with members of GSMSG. You eat and live with these people, and you’re with them for 24 hours a day. You bond quickly. You’re depending on each other to stay safe and make sure the mission is complete. It’s invigorating to be with a group where there’s never a straggler. Everyone pulls their weight.

What do you remember most about your time in Ukraine? 
There were plenty of memorable moments. At one point, I realized all the drug names were in Ukrainian, and I couldn’t read labels. Luckily, when I was in the OR, I had someone who could translate. Even though we performed a few surgeries, 99% of what we did was conduct training in tactical combat casualty care. The U.S. Dept. of Defense has a program called MARCH (Massive hemorrhage. Airway. Respiration. Circulation. Hypothermia), which covers the five factors that can kill the fastest on the battlefield. We first taught tourniquet application for massive hemorrhages and progressed to techniques as advanced as placing chest tubes. We taught surgeons, physicians and dentists, and then soldiers and civilians. 

Does anything you learned over there apply to what you do on a daily basis?
I learned there’s always a way to accomplish the goal. We’re blessed with a system where providers have three, four or five choices of a supply. In some countries, we don’t have the supplies we need — let alone a choice. You figure out how to get something done and take care of the task at hand with whatever is available. 

What do you say to providers who want to lend their skills to a crisis?
If you have a medical skill set, which each of us has acquired with the help of dozens of medical professionals who have devoted time and effort to seeing us succeed, you should do the right thing and find ways to give back. Whether it’s volunteering for the GSMSG or finding ways to do something locally, there’s a lot of good that can be done with a medical education. OSM