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USU Educators Earn Prestigious AMSUS Awards

Group of people standing to present an award.
By Sarah Marshall

Two esteemed educators at the Uniformed Services University (USU) were recently recognized by AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals, for their leadership and lasting contributions to the military, federal health care, science, and the nation.

Dr. Robert Ursano, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at USU and director of USU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS), was bestowed the AMSUS Lifetime Achievement Award, and Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Eric Garges, director of the Division of Tropical Public Health in USU’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics, received the AMSUS William Gorgas Preventive Medicine Award.

The AMSUS Lifetime Achievement award is presented to an individual who has made significant fundamental contributions to federal healthcare. These contributions must have had a lasting impact on federal healthcare, while demonstrating a lifetime commitment to advancing healthcare quality and efficacy. Candidates are also considered role models in healthcare delivery and administration, inspirational to others, and must have had a significant career span.

For more than four decades, Ursano has made tremendous tangible and persistent contributions to the military and federal health care, which have led to improved health outcomes. In 1987, while serving in the Air Force medical corps, Ursano established USU’s CSTS. The Center has continued to serve as a national and international resource for the effects of trauma on service members, their families and communities, as well as the nation. His work spans individuals exposed to war, terrorism, and disaster, including the military, first responders, disaster communities, public health threats, and community violence. Under his leadership, CSTS has responded to nearly all U.S. conflicts and disasters in the last three decades, providing significant resources to help individuals, communities, and responders. CSTS has also assisted the Department of Defense (DoD) in leading the nation in trauma-informed care, and has quickly moved its findings from the bench to bedside, from war to disaster.

In 1991, Ursano retired as a colonel following a distinguished 20-year military career. He has continued to serve as a renowned leader in understanding the effects of trauma and disaster on populations, and has led the military’s largest study of suicide, the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS, STARRS-LS).  Today, the study continues to generate practical, actionable information on risk reduction and resilience building to prevent suicide, suicide-related behavior, and other behavioral health issues in the military. Army STARRS and STARRS-LS studies have not only addressed a DoD need, but also a national mental health need.

A man looks at another man
Dr. Robert Ursano, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at USU, was recently awarded the AMSUS Lifetime Achievement Award for his many significant contributions to the military, federal health care, science, and the nation. (courtesy photo)

In 2014, Ursano co-founded the Leahy-Friedman National PTSD Brain Bank in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Center for PTSD – the first human brain bank dedicated to PTSD. This joint effort was 12 years in the making, developing concepts and pilot data. He was also the first Chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster, which helped integrate psychiatry and public health in times of disaster and terrorism. Ursano is a member of numerous professional societies, committees, and task forces within the military, federal health system and academia. Among his many other accolades, Ursano is a Distinguished Life Fellow in the American Psychiatric Association and a Fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists. He also received the Walter Menninger Award of the American College of Physicians for his outstanding contributions to medicine.  Because of his expertise, he has served as the DoD representative to the National Advisory Mental Health Council of the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Academy of Medicine, and numerous Executive Office activities.

“The AMSUS award is a wonderful honor,” Ursano said. “Such an award is a recognition of not only my work, but of the tremendous team at USU and CSTS that has accomplished so much.”
Garges has also made many lasting contributions to the military and federal health care throughout his 15-year tenure in the Army. His commitment to improving force readiness through research, education, and service has “substantially and favorably impacted the DoD profile both in tropical medicine readiness and sexually transmitted infection risk management,” according to the nomination submitted by Navy Capt. (Dr.) Mark Riddle, former chair of USU’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics.

Among his many contributions to the military and federal health care system, Garges launched USU’s “Outreach in Tropical Medicine,” which provides three months of intensive continuing medical education both on site and via distance learning. Participants range from deployable medical officers at base hospitals across the U.S. to public health service officers assigned in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offices in West and Southern Africa. This highly successful format will continue to expand in 2020, incorporating additional content, broadening deployment-relevant topics available to participants.

As the director of the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Research Area, part of USU’s Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Program, Garges also expanded the portfolio into a multi-million dollar research program in less than two years. The program incorporates all three military health services and spans six countries. He also reconstituted an entomology group at USU, which is now developing global health manpower partnerships with the Pan American Health Organization and U.S. Southern Command.

Additionally, Garges doubled the volume of gonococcal isolates (bacteria that cause the sexually-transmitted disease gonorrhea) and the number of sites that contribute to the DoD Gonococcal Reference Laboratory and Repository. As part of these efforts, he is collaborating  with NIAID to test a vaccine against the bacterial cause of gonorrhea. In recent years, Garges has also served as a DoD representative on CDC STI working groups, and has been appointed to serve as the only DoD representative on the steering committee for the new Federal Action Plan fight the national threat of rising STIs.

Two men accepting an award
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Eric Garges, received the William Gorgas Preventive Medicine Award during the AMSUS annual meeting awards banquet on Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C. The AMSUS Annual Meeting is for military healthcare professionals and leaders to improve the effectiveness, cohesiveness, and esprit de corps of the federal healthcare
services. (U.S. Army Image by Jenie Fisher, MEDCOM/OTSG)

The William Gorgas Preventive Medicine Award is particularly meaningful to Garges because of its namesake, he said.

“Dr. William Gorgas is well known for his work in Tropical Public Health, tying the pioneering work of [Dr.] Walter Reed and others to vector control measures that allowed for the completion of the Panama Canal,” Garges said.

During his time as an Army Surgeon General from 1914 to 1918, Gorgas advocated for reduction of the “Venereal Disease” in the military and the need to consider STDs as a threat to force health, Garges said, independent of stigma.

“It was for teaching, research, and service in these two areas for which I was nominated for this award,” Garges said, and it was probably just by chance that their last names have many of the same letters. “This is merely a coincidence for the AMSUS Preventive Medicine Award, but it means a lot to me as it is named after MG Gorgas.”

Garges added that he has been very fortunate to lead teams of bright, motivated, and innovative military and civilian staff at USU.  He hopes that the award will give recognition to the extraordinary efforts within the military and across the federal health care system to combat the nation’s STD epidemic.