NATICK, Mass. (Dec. 17, 2021) -- It has been 18 years since Dr. Susan Proctor first stepped foot through the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s doors as a research epidemiologist. After a long career of advancing Army medicine as a USARIEM researcher and division chief, she is preparing to say goodbye.
Army Col. Troy Morton, commander of USARIEM, praised Proctor for her unwavering dedication to serving the Soldier during a farewell ceremony this week. He said her research has changed the Army’s perception of military wellness and will have a lasting impact on the warfighter.
“Dr. Susan Proctor has participated in studies that have changed Soldier readiness,” Morton said. “Because of her research, those Soldiers, who have to be in an environment that requires lethality, are far more prepared.”
Proctor joined USARIEM in 2003 under an Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement. She became a full-time civilian two years later and served as an Army research epidemiologist. In 2015, she was later named division chief of USARIEM’s Military Performance Division. She spent the rest of her career supervising and mentoring over 70 military and civilian researchers and staff. She will officially retire on December 31, 2021.
Proctor studied a wide range of scientific fields that would eventually provide her the foundation to pursue new scientific frontiers in Army medical research. She received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1980. In Boston, Massachusetts, she earned her Master of Science in Nutrition from the Tufts University School of Nutrition in 1985 and her Doctor of Science in Environmental Health from the Boston University School of Public Health in 1992.
Yet, she maintained a steadfast dedication to studying Soldiers at all stages of their careers. Before joining USARIEM, Proctor was a research health scientist at the Veteran Affairs Boston Healthcare System. There, she continues to hold an appointment as a research associate. She was also a research associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health from 1998 to 2018.
At USARIEM, Proctor dedicated her research to understanding how environmental and occupational conditions during training and deployment affected active-duty Soldiers’ physical, neurological and cognitive health and readiness. One of her focuses was researching how exposure to lead, pesticides and organic solvents during deployment affected Soldiers’ neurological health over time.
Proctor conducted several field studies on military personnel who had previously deployed to the 1991 Gulf War, Bosnia and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She studied how veterans’ exposures to jet fuel, permethrin and heavy metals affected their health and performance. She also conducted epidemiological investigations on cognitive performance and injury on thousands of warfighters.
This body of research has helped the Military Health System improve its methods to detect signs of chemical exposure in warfighters. It has also helped the Army learn effective ways to reduce exposure, such as using personal protective equipment on the battlefield. She has authored or co-authored 137 publications during her USARIEM career, and her work has been cited more than 4,000 times.
As a division chief, Proctor led the division through some of the most extensive studies in USARIEM’s history. She led MPD through completing the large validation study of the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT. In partnership with the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, this research effort resulted in the Army-wide transition of the OPAT as a requirement for all incoming recruits.
Following the OPAT study, Proctor again partnered with CIMT on another field study, the ARIEM Reduction of Musculoskeletal Injury. The ARMI study team began data collection in 2017, intending to collect data from 4,000 trainees during Basic Combat Training and the first two years of their careers. The team has accumulated over eight million data points from 3,500 trainees and aims to complete the study by the end of 2022.
Proctor has been an active member of several Department of Defense and VA working groups with the VA Cooperative Study Program, Defense Health Program, USARIEM and U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command. She has also been a committee member of several working groups under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the World Health Organization.
Many people who have worked with Proctor have described her as a woman of few but impactful words. Instead of a traditional farewell speech, Proctor gave a series of haiku and tanka poems she wrote to thank the USARIEM workforce for their support over the years.
“Whether in the field / Or the USARIEM bench, / Soldiers, ORISE, Civs, / You made it all possible. / Thank you, everyone,” Proctor said.
In retirement, Proctor plans to spend time at her island home in Isle au Haut, Maine, visiting and traveling with family and friends. She also plans to volunteer her time to assist with several ongoing MPD field studies.