Inspired to serve: From medicine to military

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On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Michael Gutman, MD’88, stared in shock and disbelief as he watched the terrorist attacks unravel on live television.

In the months following the attacks, he felt the sense of grief and solidarity that united his adopted home country. He spent many evenings going for long walks to think about how he could help his fellow Americans deal with the aftermath of the horrific events.

An emergency physician by trade, Gutman realized he could contribute his expertise to help soldiers thrown in harm’s way. On June 4, 2002, he took his commission as an officer of the U.S. Army and took an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States of America.

“When I was going through my medical school training and completing my residency, joining the Army was the last thing I imagined myself doing in the future,” Gutman said. “But life is a story, and people go through changes – the events that happened throughout my lifetime brought me to that decision I made almost 14 years ago.”

A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism, Gutman was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Bosnia. Responsible for the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi prisoners, he quickly moved up the ranks and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. His final deployment was in late 2008.

Having the opportunity to experience life in a combat zone radically changed Gutman’s outlook on his personal and professional life. It not only taught him how to make decisions in a quick manner, but also to appreciate the privileges commonly found in developed countries.

“I felt privileged to take care of those heroes, but to watch them burn, bleed and die took its toll,” he said. “To escape death and deal with other solders’ suffering only sharpened my ability to make momentous decisions and act on them within a short time, because I came to appreciate how fleeting life can be.”

Following his last deployment overseas, Gutman explained adjusting to his life in the United States was challenging at times as he initially dealt with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, he found a way to use what he went through and apply it to a new venture with his wife, Yahel, who served in the Israeli Army as a nurse and officer.

“We decided to combine our skills and start an urgent-care system,” Gutman said. “We have four clinics now and it has turned into a large operation that sees around 60,000 visits per year.”

The leadership experience Gutman gained throughout his time in the military has helped him run his clinics. It’s not a medical skill, per se, but something he thinks all future physicians would benefit from.

Reflecting on his experience at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Gutman wouldn’t have done anything differently. He encourages current medical students to soak up as much as they can during the experience, and to not be afraid to adapt as they mature through their career.

“The best thing to do is to not be afraid to change as the years go by, and to be willing to question the most fundamental dogma that you have,” he said. “Aside from giving you more empathy, that will make you a much better person, and a much better physician.”