EMS Pioneer & Advocate Norman McSwain, MD, dies in New Orleans

By JEMS Editor-in-Chief, A.J. Heightman


The EMS Community is saddened to learn of the death of trauma pioneer Norman McSwain, MD, FACS. Dr. McSwain had been in critical condition in the Neuro ICU at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans after suffering a cerebral bleed last Friday.

Best known as the pioneering trauma surgeon who assisted the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma in the development of the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) program and his work with the ACS/COT and NAEMT in developing the Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support program, McSwain made major contributions to the development of the Kansas EMS System.

McSwain was born in the hill country of Northern Alabama as what he described as “half hillbilly and half redneck.” He finished high school at Albertville High, went to college at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. From the time he served as a Cub Scout, Norman knew that a he wanted to be a physician and a surgeon.

He chose to return to Alabama at the University of Alabama, School of Medicine to learn medicine under Dr Tinsley Harrison (of Harrison’s Textbook of Medicine fame) and Surgeon Champ Lyons.

Following graduation, he completed two years of surgical training at Bowman-Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He then joined the Air Force and, under the tutelage of Dr. Kermit Vandenbos, preformed more than a thousand surgical procedures before he went to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta to finish his initial education as a surgeon.

He acquired more education about true patient care as a partner in private practice with Dr. Harrison Rogers, who later became President of the AMA, for three years in Atlanta before he joined the clinical and academic faculty at the University of Kansas in Kansas City.

While on the clinical and academic faculty at the University of Kansas in Kansas City, McSwain was given the responsibility of EMS education and system development for the State of Kansas.

By the time he was recruited four years later to Tulane University School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, and Charity Hospital, 90% of the population of Kansas was covered by paramedic quality care within ten minutes and one out of every 500 hundred Kansans (including the entire Kansas Highway Patrol) was trained to the EMT level.

He decided to leave Kansas and move to New Orleans because he considered Charity Hospital to be one of the three most important trauma centers in the United States. After arriving in New Orleans, he was recruited by the City of New Orleans to develop an EMS system for the city. He initiated both the EMT-Basic and EMT-Paramedic training within the New Orleans Police Department and helped establish a citywide EMS System.

During this time he was recruited to the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma to assist in the development of the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) program.

After reviewing and analyzing trauma trends following various prehospital interventions in the 1970s, McSwain and leaders from the American College of Surgeons and NAEMT spearheaded the PHTLS movement, designed to provide an Advanced Trauma Life Support-type program for prehospital providers.

To fill the gap in the trauma team, he worked with the ACS/COT and NAEMT to develop the Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support program. Today, PHTLS has trained over half a million people in 45 countries. It is considered to be the world standard for pre-hospital trauma care. He also worked with the military and the Department of Defense to develop the Tactical Combat Casualty Care program for military medics.

Dr. McSwain is the only person in the history of the American College of Surgeons to receive all five of its major trauma awards:

  •  Surgeon’s Award for Service to Safety, National Safety Council, 1998
  • Committee on Trauma, ATLS Meritorious Service Award, 1989
  • Committee on Trauma Millennium Commitment Award, 2000;Committee on Trauma, Meritorious Achievement Award for State/Provincial Chairs, 2001; and
  • Scudder Orator, 2001

For the past 30 years, he has provided care to severely injured police officers at Charity Hospital, and, while at Tulane, he has written or revised more than 25 textbooks, published more than 360 articles and traveled throughout the world giving more than 800 presentations.

He lectured in all of the 50 states, all provinces in Canada, most of the countries in Europe, most of the countries in Central America, and the upper part of South America.  He also gave important lectures in Japan, China, Australia, and New Zealand.

McSwain enjoyed the opportunity to see and care for patients, and to learn and teach, at Charity Hospital which, until Hurricane Katrina, was considered by most to be one of the five top trauma centers in the United States. Charity Hospital continues to train medical students, residents and fellows in the skills and knowledge required to manage severely injured patients.

JEMS will present details of funeral services to the millions of colleagues and “fans” he has throughout the world.

To see a clip of Dr. McSwain, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8q92R-hSjcI

Source: tulane.edu/som/departments/surgery/faculty-staff/upload/bio-080608-short-1.pdf


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