Introducing Army Col. (Dr.) Kevin Chung, Our New Department of Medicine Chair - Q&A

Army Col. (Dr.) Kevin Chung, in 2008, remotely controls an RP-7 remote presence robot in the intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. At the time, he was serving as medical director for the burn intensive care unit. (Photo by Fred Baker, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs)
 by Sarah Marshall

Army Col. (Dr.) Kevin K. Chung chose a career in military when he was in grade school, and a career in medicine in college. Now the Department of Medicine Chair in the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at USU, he sat down with us to discuss his career, and his advice for future leaders in the military health system.

Chung's military headshot
Army Col. (Dr.) Kevin Chung was named USU’s
Department of Medicine chair in April 2018.
(Photo credit: USU/DoD)
Q. Why did you choose a career in military medicine?
A. The day I stepped onto the parade field at West Point in grade school, I was hooked. I knew that was the only school I wanted to attend. It's the only school I applied to. Once I got there and contemplated my Army future, I decided military medicine was my most desired path to a lifetime of service.

Q. What interested you in the field of critical care and burns?
A.  I did my internal medicine residency training at Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia. The program director at the time happened to be Lt. Col. (Dr.) William T. Browne, USU '85 and a Mayo [Clinic] critical care fellowship-trained intensivist. His influence, coupled with the incredible experience I had taking care of some very sick patients during my residency got me interested in critical care. As a second-year resident, I was fortunate enough to tag along with Dr. Browne to the Weil Critical Care conference where I was introduced to some of the giants in the field: Drs. Max Harry Weil, Jean-Louis Vincent, Dennis Maki, Joseph Parrillo, Jay Falk and many others. That locked me into fellowship training in critical care medicine. Upon my graduation from fellowship, I was assigned to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center. There, I had the opportunity to work alongside some of the most devoted individuals as part of a multidisciplinary team, caring for some of the most severely injured combat casualties as well as injured civilians from the region. It became very obvious to many of us that the current ‘state of the art' was not good enough to save those who could be saved. We needed to do better. That experience inspired me to focus on finding ways to improve fluid resuscitation techniques and to find strategies to detect and treat organ failure.

Q. What motivates you to do research?
A. Like any practicing physicians, I've experienced many disappointing patient outcomes during the course of my career. Preventable death of any given patient you are caring for is a powerful motivator.

Q. Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor or mentors?
A. I am grateful for all the great mentors who have helped shape my career. Retired Col. Browne taught me how to be an internist. Army Col. (Dr.) Lisa Moores, USU '89 (and many others at Walter Reed “classic” and the old National Naval Medical Center) taught me how to be an intensivist. Retired Army Col. (Dr.) Lou Pangaro taught me how to be a teacher. Retired Army Col. (Dr.) John Holcomb taught me that it is OK to challenge dogma. Dr. Steven Wolf taught me how to be a researcher. Retired Army Col. (Dr.) Evan Renz and retired Army Col. (Dr.) Lee Cancio taught me burn care.

Chung operates a computer
Army Col. (Dr.) Kevin Chung, in 2008, talks with a member of the Brooke Army Medical Center staff using the mobile robot RP-7’s two-way audio and video features. At the time, serving as medical director for the hospital’s burn intensive care unit, used the robot to interact with patients, check vital sign monitors, and examine x-rays. (Photo by Fred Baker, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs)

Q. During your tenure at Fort Sam Houston, did you often cross paths with our alumni and students?
A.  Over the years, I have interacted with hundreds of students from a variety of medical schools from all over the country (and even internationally). I am convinced that no other school has the ability to deliver the consistent quality end product that USU does. In my experience, whenever I have observed a positive interaction with a resident, fellow, or staff and I inquire where they went to school, odds are they are a USU graduate.

Q. What is your current assessment of military health care and what does the future look like?
A. Stateside, there is an obvious need to win our patients back. I believe we should focus our attention on a few things that we can do better than anyone else around us. If we do that and become known for those things, we can compete with the rest of the market to reclaim many of our patients who currently choose to go elsewhere. I saw some of that at work during my time in San Antonio with burns, trauma and Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). Patients chose to come to San Antonio Military Medical Center because of the reputation built upon those specialty services. The entire multispecialty referral hospital benefited as a result. Not every military treatment facility can do those things. However, I can bet if we look around at any stateside military hospital, we can figure out very quickly that there are things we can be great at. If we can tie those things to helping us accomplish a perpetual state of readiness to optimize care for the deployed service member, even better.

Q. What advice do you have for our future leaders in the military health system?
A. Never stop looking around for things we can do better. If you see something that is broken, be that person who will help figure out how to make things better. Most things can be improved upon.