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Q&A with USU’s New Obstetrics and Gynecology Chair, Air Force Col. (Dr.) Barton Staat

Staat standing in front of a research poster
By Sarah Marshall

As the new chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in USU’s F. Edward Hébert
School of Medicine, Air Force Col. (Dr.) Barton Staat sat down with us to discuss his career, and his advice for future leaders in the Military Health System.

Staat is a board-certified perinatologist and has been a faculty member at USU in Obstetrics and Gynecology since 2015.  He has served as the Air Force Surgeon General’s Consultant for Obstetrics/Maternal-Fetal Medicine since 2014. 

Barton Staat military head shotQ. Is there any particular reason you chose a career in military medicine?
A. I first chose a career in the military before I knew I wanted to be a physician. When graduating high school, I wanted to pursue a higher calling and serve my country. I entered the military through an appointment at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). I attended USAFA because I wanted to embody the core values of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.” While at USAFA, my sponsor was an orthopedic surgeon who introduced me to the field of medicine.  I grew to love the mix of science, procedures and ability to help others in need. There is no higher calling than helping soldiers while serving our country.

Q. What interested you in the field of maternal-fetal medicine?
A. Maternal-Fetal medicine is a subspecialty of Obstetrics and Gynecology. I first fell in love with OB/GYN. The field combines a great mix of inpatient and outpatient care with a large number of procedures. During my OB/GYN residency, I always wanted to care for the most complex and critical obstetric patients. That is what maternal-fetal medicine physicians are trained to do. We care for women who either have complex medical histories, like lupus, diabetes, or HIV, or high risk obstetric conditions like preterm labor, or higher order multiples (triplets), and also help diagnose and treat suspected birth defects or genetic conditions in the fetus. So my typical day may include a delivery in the morning, outpatient ultrasounds and consultations during the day with an urgent inpatient consult or rescue cerclage (treatment for when the cervix shortens/ opens too early during pregnancy causing late miscarriage or preterm birth). Even though my field is specialized, we have a lot of variety.

Q. Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor or mentors? 
A. I have been fortunate to have many great mentors in my career. My program director, Henry Galan, at the University of Colorado was a huge influence on me during my training and is a valued mentor to this day. He was amazing at providing the right amount of supervision for those in training. I hope to have learned that trait from him. You must actively supervise students and residents, but at the same time give some latitude to allow trainees to develop skills and independence to one day practice without constant supervision. In the military, some of my greatest mentors have been former USU OB/GYN chairs including retired Air Force Col. (Dr.) Chris Zahn and retired Army Col. (Dr.) Shad Deering. Both have been role models on how to be an officer, physician and professor.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. I have been able to accomplish many things in my professional life, but it is my marriage of 22 years and my four children that I am most proud of. Like most military families we have moved all over the country, and even the world, with a tour in Germany. Despite many of the challenges that occur with military service our family has been able to thrive. My oldest daughter is about to graduate high school and will be attending her first choice of schools at Colorado College.

Q. What is something most people don't know about you?
A. Although the field of Maternal-Fetal medicine demands a lot of time and energy, I think it is important to find hobbies to refresh your mind and soul. I enjoy downhill skiing, SCUBA diving, spending time on the lake and sports cars. Many of my hobbies involve travel, which is a passion of mine. While in Germany, I was able to ski some of the best mountains in the world and drive on the famous Nurburgring race track.

Q. What advice do you have for our future leaders in the Military Health System?
A. The best advice I can give is to discover what you are passionate about and then pursue your passion vigorously. Your patients, who are our service members and their families, deserve the best physicians. The best physicians I have worked with are those who truly care about the field they are in and the patients under their care. As our military healthcare system transforms due to the changes mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act, we need our physicians to be leaders. To effectively lead in the MHS, you not only need to be an excellent physician but you also need to have an understanding about how you fit into the military mission. Learn about the non-medical units that are present at your installation. How does your installation contribute to keeping our country safe and how do you fit into the mission? The military gives young physicians opportunities to lead. Embrace these challenges, don’t back away from opportunities to influence the direction of military medicine. 

Q. What motivates you to do research?
A. Research is a way to improve outcomes and advance the care we provide our patients. Participating in research demonstrates that we care about our patients and want to improve their outcomes. Whether the research is basic science, translational or clinical they each play an important role. Throughout my career I have been involved in each type of research and truly value the role research plays in medicine. I have been involved with basic science research that helped advance our knowledge about how carbohydrates get transferred through the placenta to the fetus. One of the most influential studies I have been involved with was the MELISSA trial, which was a study using maternal blood to identify pregnancies that are at higher risk for aneuploidy, such as Down syndrome. This study has radically changed screening during pregnancy and reduced the need for invasive testing, such as an amniocentesis, and reduced the number of babies lost due to complications of invasive testing. 

As chair of the OB/GYN department, I intend to promote our how our department’s research supports our women in uniform. I also plan to help educate our students on how to provide the best care for the women warfighters.