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Dr. Norman Rich named ‘Icon in Surgery’

A young Rich stands for a photo on campus at the first USU Graduation on Campus in 1980 with then Army Col. Norm Rich in uniform. (Image credit: courtesy of Dr. Norman Rich)
 By Sarah Marshall

A headshot of Norman Rich
Dr. Norman Rich, Leonard Heaton and David Packard Professor of Surgery
at USU, was recently named an “Icon in Surgery” by the American College
of Surgeons.
The American College of Surgeons (ACS) recently named Dr. Norman M. Rich an “Icon in Surgery” in honor of his outstanding contributions to the fields of surgery and medicine.  The vascular surgeon was recognized for this achievement during the ACS’s annual Clinical Congress meeting in San Diego on Oct. 24.

Throughout his career, Rich, who is founding chair of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Department of Surgery, has made significant contributions to the field of vascular surgery.  A retired Army colonel and a Leonard Heaton and David Packard Professor in the Surgery department at USU, Rich made a stamp not only on military medicine, but medicine at large, developing the Vietnam Vascular Registry in 1966 based on cases he had seen while serving in Vietnam, along with hundreds of other cases added by colleagues, and he has continued to maintain the registry for the last 50 years.  The registry sought to document and analyze all blood vessel injuries in Vietnam, and to obtain long-term follow-up information about patients who sustained those injuries, which resulted in documenting more than 10,000 injuries from about 7,500 American casualties in Southeast Asia. This effort laid the foundation for many of today’s modern military and civilian trauma registries.

During Vietnam, patients who sustained a vascular injury were entered into the registry, originally housed at the former Walter Reed General Hospital. They were also assigned a consecutive number and given an identification card, making them aware of the registry’s objectives and that they were a part of this clinical outcomes effort. Dr. Rich was also responsible for helping with the long-term follow-up care for these patients.

An old photo of students walking across USU campus for graduation
The first USU Graduation on Campus in 1980 with then Army Col. Norm Rich
in uniform. (Image credit: courtesy of Dr. Norman Rich)
A variety of articles were later published from the trauma registry, outlining these injuries, and in 1978, the first edition of Vascular Trauma by Rich and Frank C. Spencer was published – a textbook providing additional reports from the registry, as well as reports from experiences during the Korean War.  Two more editions have been published since, one in 2004 co-authored by Rich, Kenneth Mattox and Asher Hirshberg, and another in 2015, Rich’s Vascular Trauma, co-edited by Dr. Todd Rasmussen and Nigel R.M. Tai, and sponsored by the Society for Vascular Surgery. Each textbook has continued to offer the latest information on the treatment and management of vascular injuries to include perspectives from several other renowned surgeons across the globe.

Rich, an Arizona native, knew from an early age that he wanted to become a doctor.  He earned both his undergraduate degree and medical degree from Stanford University, graduating from Stanford’s Medical School in 1960.  After completing his surgical residency in 1965, he commissioned in the Army and became one of only a few Army officers assigned to Vietnam. He served as chief of surgery at the 2nd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry Division, which consisted of 500 helicopters and thousands of Soldiers.  In 1966, he returned to Walter Reed and helped train general surgeons and vascular fellows who were heading to Vietnam. While there, he also conducted research  focusing on the repair of lower extremity veins, which had not been well-studied at the time. There, he also led the Vascular Fellowship Program, and later served as a vascular surgery consultant to the Army Surgeon General from 1970 to 1982.

A young Rich in military uniform stands by a poster with medical instruments on it
After completing his surgical residency in 1965, Dr. Norm Rich went on to commission in
the Army and served as chief of surgery at the 2nd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit. He
was one of only a few Army officers assigned to Vietnam at the time.
(Image credit: courtesy of Dr. Norman Rich)
Rich was appointed professor of surgery at USU in 1976, and the Founding Chairman of Surgery in 1977. In October 2002, then- USU president James A. ZImble announced the establishment of the Norman M. Rich Department of Surgery.

Rich has continued to make an impact in his field over the years, serving as president of six national/international surgical societies and governor to the American College of Surgeons.  He has received many honorary appointments and degrees from institutions worldwide, such as being named an honorary professor at the Third Military Medical University in the People’s Republic of China, and receiving an honorary degree from the Mayab University in Mexico, and an honorary degree from the University of Lodz in Poland. He has received countless prestigious awards, both during his time in service and as a civilian. He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Eastern Vascular Society, the DeBakey Award from the Michael E. DeBakey International Surgical Society, a Masters Medal from the Apothecaries of London, and a Founders Award from the American Venous Forum, to name a few. Some of his military awards include a Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Award, and several Vietnam Medals.

A young Rich in military uniform stands by a rolling staircase used for boarding planes
In 1965, then Army Capt. Norman M. Rich in uniform in the
Republic of Vietnam. (courtesy of Dr. Norman Rich)
Recently, Rich also shared many of his Vietnam War-era medical items now on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, including bullets and fragments from explosive devices that had been embedded in the limbs of service members, retrieved during surgery.

“I am privileged to have been able to contribute to the academic and clinical advancement of vascular surgery in helping provide the best care possible for those who have the misfortune to be injured on the battlefield or in civilian trauma,” Rich said.

One of the many surgeons touched by Rich’s education and mentorship, Navy Capt. (Dr.) Eric Elster, professor and chairman of USU’s Department of Surgery, expressed his gratitude for Rich’s invaluable support.  He said that Rich has taught him the value of “reaching behind you and pulling other people forward … the critical role of mentorship and being a selfless mentor in our profession.”

Elster added that Rich typifies a selfless mentor – he truly values others and their success.