Coast Guard Physician Honored by US Public Health Service

JUNEAU, Alaska – A Coast Guard physician has been named the United States Public Health Service Physician’s Professional Advisory Committee Clinician of the Year.

Lieutenant Cmdr. Leslie Wood, Senior Medical Officer Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, was honored by the United States Public Health Service Tuesday at the Public Health Service Scientific and Training Symposium in Tucson, Ariz. The award was presented by Public Health Service Rear Adm. Steven K. Galson, acting Surgeon General.

“I am honored and surprised to receive this award,” Wood said. “But most of all, I believe in the mission and that is what makes it really special. I also believe that the Public Health Service believes in the same mission as I do, in providing the best care at the earliest moment possible.”

The award recognizes a physician who consistently achieves high standards in the practice of medicine and is able to find innovative ways of delivering quality medical care despite the constraints of budget and personnel. Additionally the award winner is someone who is consistently looked upon as a role model by peers and is a valuable resource due to their extended length of service.

Wood graduated from the University of Maine in 1988 and went on to receive her medical degree from the University of Vermont in 1995. For more than eight years she worked as a staff physician at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka. At Mt. Edgecumbe she standardized the care of both critically ill and trauma patients in the entire Southeast Alaska region by developing protocols based on nationally recognized standards. She also coordinated local, state and regional resources to provide education to remote hospital clinics and pre-hospital personnel.

In February 2007 she accepted her current position as a commissioned officer and senior medical officer of Coast Guard Air Station Sitka.

Most recently Wood has been actively involved in improving the quality of care delivered aboard Coast Guard helicopters. She implemented a needleless system for the administration of intravenous fluids and medications during transport to improve safety. She is also field testing new trauma and hypothermia treatment equipment. Wood explained that she realized the need for better care and better technology aboard the helicopters while reflecting on her previous experience in the Emergency Room at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital.

“At my previous job I had a clean and controlled environment in which to work,” she said. “Now aboard helicopters, I don’t have that luxury. We are usually operating in the dark with all our extra survival gear and in a moving object sometimes in severe weather.”

Wood is a certified U.S. Army Flight Surgeon and a NOAA dive medical officer. In addition she maintains certification in wilderness advance life support, advanced trauma life support, pediatric advanced life support, and as an advanced cardiac life support instructor. In addition to her Coast Guard duties, Wood is also the medical director of the Sitka mountain rescue team and fire department. She also volunteers as a public safety diver on the Sitka fire department dive rescue team and as the emergency medical service physician sponsor for Hoonah and Pelican.

Wood’s commitment to improving healthcare in the region was on full display in November 2007 when, while off-duty, she assisted in saving the life of a 62-year-old patient in Haines. Her medical knowledge and insight were critical to the aircrew’s flight planning. Using her air crew and multiple civilian medical technicians she was able to prepare the patient to be airborne in one hour, half the time originally projected. Another hour was saved when she deemed it necessary to transfer the patient to Juneau instead of the original destination of Sitka.

“In most places in America you look at the ‘golden hour’ to save a life, in Alaska you look at the ‘golden day’,” Wood said. “Pre-hospital care is vital because of all the remote villages in Alaska and transportation needs are greater than in most places.”

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