Thomas Beaver, M.D., M.P.H., is the chief of the division of cardiovascular surgery and professor of cardiovascular surgery at the UF College of Medicine. Before his 20-year career began at UF, Beaver served his country. He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1991 and served in their medical corps for roughly 15 years, retiring from service in 2006. He had a fellowship with UF from 1996 through 1998 and afterwards went to the University of South Florida Tampa General Hospital. In 2000, Beaver was offered a position in Gainesville and has been here ever since.
Why did you choose to enroll in the service?
As a kid, I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and then moved to Denver, Colorado, where I attended the University of Colorado. During school, I was involved in a lot of trauma surgery at Denver General Hospital so I was pretty comfortable with the task of trauma surgery.
Around this time, the first Gulf War, codenamed Operation Desert Storm, was taking place. People were being called up to serve and because I was comfortable with the idea of tending to wounded soldiers, I signed up and enlisted in the Army Reserve.
I did a lot of drills and my residency training counted as service time. We had full Internet [access], so I was actually able to catch up on academic work and research while on duty.
One of my assignments was to go to the Tripler Army Medical Center, one of the army bases in Honolulu, Hawaii. I would travel there every couple of years and spent two weeks on duty.
I drilled and served for roughly 12 years and thought my time in the military was coming to an end, but then the war with Iraq developed. All the surgeons in my unit were eventually deployed to serve in this war and I was stationed in Iraq in 2004.
Can you describe what an average day was like in the service?
Every day, I reported to the “tent hospitals,” which were a makeshift hospital created out of a series of tents with an operating “theatre” inside, and wait for wounded soldiers to arrive.
During this time, there were IEDs, which were improvised explosive devices, that were codenamed car bombs. We had to deal with a lot of injuries as a result of those. The other surgeons and I were responsible for tending to the wounded soldiers. My unit was moved from Tikrit, Iraq to Asadabad, Afghanistan and the relocation took an adventurous 90 days.
What memory do you have from the service that has made a lasting impression?
I was impressed with the patriotism and quality of the people I was surrounded with every day. One memory that constantly reverberates is the comradery we had. In parts of the field hospital, there was a tent where the surgeons would sit around and play cards or chess while waiting for the trauma to come in. It was special moments like these I treasure.
A profound memory that stood out to me came while working in trauma. When the young men would come in wounded from duty, they would realize that for the rest of their lives, they were going to have to learn to live with these injuries.
How has your training for the service impacted or affected your career at UF Health?
Serving in the armed forces instilled a structure to life and work ethic that I appreciate. The structure has me with organizational skills and understanding how to relate to people at different levels.
What is the biggest takeaway you learned from serving in the military?
My biggest takeaway from the service was the sacrifice people were willing to make to protect the country. We live in the greatest country in the entire world and it’s an amazing, diverse population of people who are, by and large, trying to do the right thing. When bad things happen in the world, those are the times we have to step up.