A highly functioning emergency department team relies on strong, capable leadership. Enter Robert E. O’Connor, M.D., MPH, Professor and Chair of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia (UVA). Day to day, he works alongside his capable colleagues in the Emergency Department to ensure patients and their families get the best possible care and that the next generation of ED physicians is well-trained. Without question, Dr. O’Connor is an unsung hero of UVA Medical Center.

A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Haverford College, Dr. O’Connor fulfilled a lifelong dream by earning a medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania. He then completed training in emergency medicine at the Medical Center of Delaware where he met and married fellow resident Dr. Sara Sutherland, also an emergency medicine physician. During his subsequent years as a clinician, he has worn many hats: State EMS Medical Director, Department Research Director, Medical Student Clerkship Director, EMS Fellowship Director and Residency Program Director.

A trauma action plan in action

Nothing tests an emergency department’s muscle like a mass casualty. On August 12, 2017, when Dr. O’Connor received the call that a car had sped into a group near the Downtown Mall, he jumpstarted a well-rehearsed trauma action plan with his team in the Emergency Department. As patients arrived, they were stabilized, assessed, and then quickly dispatched to imaging, intensive care, or an operating room. The response—a combination of intensive planning, training, speed, and multi-faceted teamwork—was critical. Of the twenty people injured, Heather Heyer alone did not survive.

Making a difference through research and leadership

Dr. O’Connor’s energy and commitment to advancing emergency medical care are legend. In addition to his teaching and clinical responsibilities, he has presented more than 400 research papers and lectures at local, national, and international meetings. His vita includes 150 published manuscripts, six books, and three textbooks. In the past, he has served as President of the National Association of EMS Physicians and Advocates for EMS and on the Scientific Advisory Council for the American Heart Association.

These  remarkable efforts are being recognized both at UVA and across the country. Dr. O’Connor is the first recipient of the Marcus L. Martin Distinguished Professorship of Emergency Medicine, a prestigious honor named after the department’s first chairman and given to a faculty member demonstrating the highest level of excellence. He is also being honored with the 2019 American College of Emergency Physicians Award for Outstanding Contribution in EMS.

Look no further for local heroics

Dr. O’Connor’s focus on keeping a community safe and healthy is a prime driver of the Be a Local Hero program. He and his ED colleagues want us all to be aware of hazards and, in the event of injury, to be educated about appropriate actions we can take while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. We can rest assured that Dr. O’Connor and his team are well-prepared to take over from there.

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