Focus on Veterans With David Norton, MD

David Norton, MDDavid Norton, MD, assistant professor in the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, is also director of the medical intensive care unit at UC Medical Center. He received his medical degree from the University of Virginia in 1997, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the David Grant United States Air Force Medical Center in 2000 as well as a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine from the Naval Medical Center, San Diego, in 2003.

Norton came to Cincinnati in 2009 as part of an Air Force training program known as C-STARS or Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills. In 2011, he separated from the Air Force and joined UC as a faculty member. Norton is a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

As a former Air Force lieutenant colonel you have a special tie to our men and women in American service. What does Veterans Day mean to you?

“I think it’s a time for me to reflect on those who have served in the military and those who are still serving, particularly those who are currently away from home. They are honoring America’s commitments abroad through great sacrifice. I spend a lot of time thinking about them, not just on Veterans Day.

“If you have deployed before in a war zone, every day is Veterans Day. The experiences you have had, the things you have seen, and the people you have met, in my case the people I was honored enough to take care of, you think of them every day. You think of them on Veterans Day, but you think of them every day. Not a day goes by you don’t think about those experiences. You are never removed from them.”

How did you get involved in medicine?

“Well, my parents both worked for NASA and I wanted to be an astronaut, but after the Challenger accident in 1986, I had this concern if there was another accident there would not be any jobs for astronauts. I was a sophomore in high school, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. My high school offered a human anatomy class. It was taught by a biology teacher named George Dirner.

“Mr. Dirner was probably the best teacher I had ever. He got me so excited about medicine and taking care of people. I was at an age where I wanted something to be passionate about and directed toward. Mr. Dirner made medicine that something for me.

“I went to the College of William & Mary and majored in biology. I used to love the Air Force. My father went into the Air Force Academy, and my grandfather flew P-47 Thunderbolts for the Army Air Corps during World War II. I was selected as a recipient of an Air Force Health Professions Scholarship, and attended University of Virginia School of Medicine for my undergraduate medical training.”

How has your service in the U.S. Air Force affected your career and research at UC?

“I spent most of my time in the Air Force doing pulmonary and critical care, which are my specialties. My deployed mission was critical care air transport (CCAT) and moving ICU patients out of the war zone and back to the United States. Because of that, I deployed four times, each time with at least one faculty member at the University of Cincinnati. That is what drew me to the University of Cincinnati.

“I think my experience in the military has given me a kind of a unique perspective among medical intensive care doctors. Most internal medicine ICU trained doctors really don’t do a lot of time in trauma and surgical ICU. I spend six to eight weeks each year in our Trauma/Surgical ICU, mostly because of my prior military deployed experience as well as my time spent teaching trauma critical care as part of the C-STARS program here at the University of Cincinnati.”

What new and exciting research are you in the midst of uncovering?

“We just applied to have the University of Cincinnati be part of the next ARDSnet study which looks at early interventions for the diagnosis and therapy of acute respiratory, distress syndrome. That is in collaboration with the Division of Trauma and Critical Care as well as the Department of Emergency Medicine.

“We are currently putting together a project looking at the use of thromboelastography for blood product resuscitation in guidance in upper GI bleed patients. Those are probably the two big ones. We are participating in a few national trials looking at different antibiotic therapies for pneumonia. One of those studies we are doing in conjunction with the Division of Trauma.”

Tell us about your family

“I have a beautiful wife named Lisa, and she and I have been married for nine years. Lisa was also in the Air Force, as a family practice doctor. She and I met at Andrews Air Force Base. We have two young boys, a 5-year-old named Benjamin and a 2-year old named Brennan, and two dogs.”

How will you spend Veterans Day?

“I will be here in the medical ICU. Veterans Day for me is going to be a 36-hour shift covering the MICU (Medical Intensive Care Unit). We take care of patients who are on advanced life support, who have either end stage or decompensated medical diseases. Septic shock and respiratory failure are probably the two most common diseases.

“Our patients frequently require invasive mechanical ventilation and continuous hemodynamic support. I usually tell people my specialty is about keeping people alive long enough for the smart people to figure out what to do. The Medical ICU is 24 beds with very, very sick patients. It is very important that you know that the people who are doing the work are the nurses, the respiratory therapists, fellows and house staff.

“Those are the people who are taking care of the patients and making the patients better. I get a lot of credit for their good work and it’s largely undeserved because they are the ones fixing people. My job is to provide some guidance, but they are the ones doing the work and making people better. If you get sick, you want those people taking care of you.”

Other cool facts about David Norton:

Norton is a collector of miniature fighter jets, with the F-4 Phantom among his absolute favorites. He has four variants of the F-4 displayed on his office windowsill along with at least half a dozen other jet planes including the Sea Vixen, a two-seat jet fighter used by the Royal Navy in the 1950s and 1960s.

One of the F-4 variants is a camouflage-colored replica of a model sold to the Iranian government in the 1960s and 1970s, when the U.S. and Iran were on friendlier terms. A Bengals fan with season tickets, Norton is a true football enthusiast, willing to watch a game between any two teams. He is also a runner and enjoys taking his sons to the Air Force museum in Dayton and to Kings Island.

“Any football game that is on I will watch it. I don’t care what team is on. I love the Dallas Cowboys and I like the Bengals, but I will watch any two teams play football.”

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