Bragg doctor creates world-class residency program
November 2, 2012
Col. (Dr.) Michael J. Sundborg knows women.
And it is this knowledge that brought him back to Fort Bragg after a long professional absence. Sundborg, an obstetrician and gynecologist specializing in gynecological oncology, is the director of graduate medical education for Womack Army Medical Center and was tasked with initiating an OB-GYN residency program here.
"This residency selects medical school graduates and trains them over a four year period to become obstetrics-gynecology physicians," said Dr. Y. Sammy Choi, chief, clinical investigation service, WAMC. "(Sundborg's) job is to foster a culture of teaching and scholarly activities that are required by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the accrediting body for physician training programs in the U.S."
Setting up the new program at Womack was no easy task; the entire process took about ten years. In order for Womack to have a complete training program, the hospital must have all the departments for a resident to rotate through, like: general gynecology, urogynecology, pelvic reconstruction, gynecologic oncology, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and maternal-fetal medicine.
"Because of Fort Bragg's population, we're now the only medical center in the region that has all the subspecialties for women's health," said Sundborg. "When I was a resident here in the 90s, we had to go to [the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for additional training.] Having all the subspecialties here will really be the key ingredient needed to make or program successful."
Sundborg was born into an Army Family at Fort Campbell, Ky., and came to Fort Bragg as an enlisted medical specialist in the 82nd Airborne Division in 1978. After completing a degree in biology on a ROTC scholarship at then Methodist College, Sundborg was commissioned and spent time as a field artillery officer with the XVIII Airborne Corps, as well as in Korea. He transferred over to the medical corps after completing his doctorate in medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in 1994.
It was during a tour in Iraq as the commander of the 1st Forward Surgical Team that Sundborg said he really felt the need to give back to military medicine.
"Our medical training program for military gynecologists became very important to me and I really saw a new role for me and that was to start mentoring doctors-in-training," he said. "These are the doctors who will be taking care of our wives, daughters and mothers."
A medical residency is a graduate-level study of medical practices under the tutelage of a more senior doctor in the specialty of the student's choice. These programs are post-doctoral, usually paired with an internship, and are generally required for medical licensure.
Currently, Womack has five residents who are rotating through all the OB-GYN departments, spending time in each subspecialty in order to increase medical knowledge within their chosen specialty.
"This is one of the only places in the military that provides such a program," said Sundborg. "Now other medical centers have to send their people here, while ours get to stay in one place during their training period. This is the only program in the Army and maybe the [Department of Defense] that has that ability."
Not only does the Womack program top the chart when it comes to curricular training, but with 10 percent of the Army's active-duty force, Fort Bragg's unique population provides access to a wide variety of cases for the residents to be exposed to.
"Here at Fort Bragg, we can offer all the services that they'll need throughout their lifetimes," said Sundborg. "The Army is now 15 to 20 percent female and we are able to provide them with the medical care they need as professional warfighters. Our patients' ages range from young children to a growing number of veterans and retirees."
Many people may not realize that Womack's OB-GYN department is the busiest in the Army and the second busiest in the entire DoD in terms of volume and the types of services offered.
"Fort Bragg is a natural place for me to mentor young doctors," said Sundborg. "We are afforded many training opportunities and are now able to share them with other people through this program. It really is a point of personal satisfaction that I get to mentor these doctors."
Residents come to Fort Bragg from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Madigan Army Medical Center and numerous other medical centers throughout the Department of Defense.
Sundborg's mentees seem to be more than satisfied with his performance as a women's health mentor. Two former residents, Air Force doctors trained at Walter Reed, recommended him for the Armed Forces District of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Professor of the Year award.
"It was immediately evident that Dr. Sundborg has a love for the professional … and a sincere interest in resident education," said Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Kristen Zeligs, an OB-GYN at Walter Reed. "He has proven to be not only a talented teacher, but also a dedicated mentor."
Zeligs studied under Sundborg as both a medical student at the USUHS and as a resident at Fort Bragg.
"Sundborg demonstrates a true passion for resident education," said Zeligs. "His unyielding enthusiasm for learning and clinical medicine is contagious and is evident by the high praise his students have for him after working with him."
Womack colleagues agree that he was a good choice to set up the Bragg program.
"As a mentor, teacher, researcher and writer, Colonel Sundborg embodies the traits needed to establish and sustain the rigors of such a residency program," said Choi, who also serves as Sundborg's deputy.
From the earliest of times, one has learned a skill or trade from an older, wiser person. Whether you are a parachute rigger or a brain surgeon, the knowledge is acquired over time and then passed on.
"Medical residencies are really the last bastion of apprenticeship for professional services," said Sundborg. "When you go to medical school and read your textbooks, you're getting an introduction to medicine, but it's not until you get to your residency that you learn to become a doctor."
Like a genealogist, doctors are able to trace their lineage back to great doctors of the past times thanks to residency programs like Womack's.
"You are in a true apprenticeship and it will be that mentor who will share with you his legacy which will allow you to practice medicine to the fullest degree," said Sundborg.