As we honor Veterans Day, we turn our attention to the remarkable individuals who have served our country with dedication and courage. Among these heroes stands a doctor whose journey embodies the intersection of military service and medical expertise.
“If you're one of my fellow brothers or sisters in arms, thank you for your service,” says Gregory Beilman, MD, University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) critical care surgeon and retired Army colonel.
Dr. Beilman has a rich background in both military service and medicine. Raised in a family with a strong military history, Dr. Beilman decided to join the Army Reserves during his surgical residency. Two desires influenced this decision: to learn from the experienced surgeons who had served in Vietnam and trained him, in addition to a personal commitment to giving back, inspired by his family's legacy of service.
Dr. Beilman’s military deployments, particularly in Kosovo, profoundly impacted his perspective. “I was getting ready to leave the reserves after my commitment, and I got deployed to Kosovo. For me, it was life changing. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is why I'm a trauma surgeon. I get to make important decisions that make a difference in patients' outcomes. There's nobody else here to do it, and I get to make a big difference for people.’”
“It's very different to my controlled clinical practice, where we carefully plan tests and consultations and make decisions together. When faced with critical situations in the military, you must act swiftly to save lives. That experience made me realize I couldn't leave the Army,” he adds.
For 25 years, Dr. Beilman continued to serve in the military, undertaking research in resuscitation funded by the Department of Defense and participating in deployments in the Middle East. “The military allowed me to do research that I thought was important,” he says.
Dr. Beilman expresses deep gratitude towards his wife, a pediatric neurologist, for steadfastly supporting his military commitments. “She would snowblow the driveway when I was sitting in Afghanistan or get the kids to the soccer games when I was in Iraq,” he explains. Dr. Beilman also acknowledges the unwavering support of colleagues and partners in both his medical and military endeavors.
Dr. Beilman’s military experience taught him resourcefulness, adaptability and understanding that effective care doesn't always require the latest technology, which influenced his approach to medicine.
“In the field, you quickly learn to adapt and use available tools at the bedside for patient care. There's no access to advanced equipment like endoscopy or surgical robots,” he says. “Additionally, my military experience has taught me to rely less on lab tests and imaging in making clinical decisions. Instead, I assess the patient's response to therapy and use my judgment, not always depending on high-tech scans or tests. That's something that I've valued in my military experience."
For fellow veterans or medical students contemplating a career in healthcare or service, Dr. Beilman says that he has never looked back. “You have to go into it with your eyes open, understanding Uncle Sam doesn't care what you think or want. They will send you where they need you as long as you're willing to understand that, then go for it,” he explains.
Dr. Beilman also emphasizes the importance of making the most of downtime during deployments, using it as an opportunity for personal and professional development.
His story is a testament to the profound impact that military service can have on a medical career, adding to it unique perspectives and skills that ultimately, in the end, benefit patient care.