Treating soldiers behind enemy lines is terrifying. It is harrowing, scary, and extremely dangerous for any medical doctor. No place is safe, ever, and the attacks are relentless. There are attacks from rockets and mortars and improvised explosive devices every day.
But someone’s got to do it.
For Dr. Dean Shoucair, the Regional Medical Director for the Midwest for U.S. HealthWorks, combining his calling to practice medicine with 31 years in the U.S. military has led to a remarkable career that demonstrates a life of service and sacrifice.
In his role with U.S. HealthWorks, Dr. Shoucair oversees 10 clinics in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, where he mentors and advises medical staff and encourages growth through acquisitions. He also seeks partnerships with residency programs and government entities to bring top medical talent to U.S. HealthWorks.
“I went into medicine because I wanted to help people, and I felt like I could make a direct impact that way,” he said. “It’s a good feeling – the best feeling in the world – to help relieve pain and suffering. When people are injured or sick, they just want to know they’ll be OK.”
A career in medicine is impressive on its own, but Dr. Shoucair has also been on the front lines of military conflicts, taking care of American soldiers (and on occasion, Western European soldiers and Iraqi civilians) in Iraq, Korea, Kuwait, Germany, Kazakhstan and Qatar. He’s treated injuries as routine as ankle sprains and as severe as traumatic brain injury and amputations following attacks from rockets and mortars.
For an emergency room military doctor, resources can be limited and conditions unexpected. There may only be one or two doctors, a few nurses or physician’s assistants and a small tent for medical equipment.
If they’re lucky, military doctors on larger bases will have medical trailers that are essentially pre-fabricated hospitals with all the equipment needed.
“They can put these trailers up on top of a mountain, in the middle of a desert, or a jungle – it doesn’t matter where,” said Dr. Shoucair, who has been deployed five times. “The hospitals can be up and running in 24 hours. The military is a well-oiled machine.”
As a young man growing up in Detroit, Dr. Shoucair didn’t always envision a life of military service.
“I enlisted in the Army when I turned 18 because I needed money for college. I joined as a military policemen and Spanish linguist, and I thought after my three years of active duty I’d be out,” Dr. Shoucair said.
After those three years, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan on an ROTC scholarship. Shortly after graduation he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Adjutant General Corps in the Army.
Fast forward through a tour of duty in South Korea and service in the Detroit military entrance processing station, and Dr. Shoucair earned the title of Captain.
Despite a solid career in the military, he wanted to do more. So in 1994, Dr. Shoucair transitioned to the Michigan Army National Guard so he could pursue his medical career.
He earned his medical degree from Michigan State University and completed his residency in occupational, preventive and environmental medicine. He then worked as a medical director for an occupational medical program in Illinois for a few years, enjoying the chance to live a “normal” life with his family.
But in 2003, Dr. Shoucair got deployed for the first time as a military doctor. He was sent to Iraq, working in the emergency room and holding a role as the Chief of Preventive Medicine. His first tour extended into 2004, and he went back again in 2005-2006.
Although serving overseas can be a stressful, dangerous and demanding situation, Dr. Shoucair has not backed away from his call of duty. There aren’t many active duty doctors to choose from, so the Army has to pull from Reserves and the National Guard.
“There’s a huge need, and that’s why I’m still doing this after 31 years. I could’ve left earlier, but I know they need me, and I assist as much as I can,” he said.
Dr. Shoucair’s latest deployment ended in July 2013 after an intense year-long tour that included time – again as an emergency room doctor – in Kuwait, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Germany and Texas.
After three decades, Dr. Shoucair has risen to the rank of Colonel, Chief of Professional Services and flight surgeon for the U.S. Army.
He admits that transitioning back to civilian life after being in a combat zone is difficult. Accustomed to fearing for his life on a daily basis, it requires some adjustment time to get used to a day-to-day civilian routine again.
Dr. Shoucair strongly believes his family has helped him through his deployments and transition periods. His wife, Camille, has been by his side for 22 years through medical school and military life, helping to raise their two teenage boys and support him when coming back from tours of duty. He credits her support for being able to accomplish what he has.
But ultimately this is a commitment that he has made – and one that he values and believes is an honor.
“The whole experience is humbling. It’s important to me to take care of those young soldiers overseas,” Dr. Shoucair explained. “The ones in the line of danger are young soldiers … those are the real heroes, the ones who voluntarily put their lives at risk day in and day out.”
Images courtesy of Dean Shoucair