Washington People: Douglas Char

Douglas Char, MD
Douglas Char, MD, professor of emergency medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, consults with resident Sonya Naganathan, MD, in the Charles F. Knight Emergency and Trauma Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. (Photo: Matt Miller/School of Medicine)

Douglas Char’s first deployment as a physician with a federal disaster medical assistance team took him to New York City in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Char and his colleagues treated injuries of firefighters and police as the first responders recovered bodies and removed debris from what was known as “the pile” at the World Trade Center complex.

The magnitude of the devastation shook Char, but he was inspired by the support his team received from residents — New Yorkers cheered as the bus that carried Char and other members of his team passed through neighborhoods each morning. The bond between the people working at the site also heartened him.

“Yes, we were there to support workers on ‘the pile,’ but we were part of something so much bigger,” he said.

A professor of emergency medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Char, MD, has since deployed to New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005; Haiti, following the massive 2010 earthquake; and most recently, Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, after a super typhoon in October. He recently was transferred to the incident management team in the Office of Emergency Management within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

When he isn’t running to disasters, Char can be found tending to local emergencies at St. Louis Children’s and Barnes-Jewish hospitals, treating conditions ranging from gunshot wounds to burns to broken bones. He has the added challenge of helping patients battling addiction and mental illness, as well as making diagnoses in older people with dementia.

In addition to his noted clinical skills, Char is heralded as a gifted teacher and administrator. He helped start the emergency medicine residency at Washington University in 1995 and then directed it for almost 15 years.

Char was the residency program’s assistant director when David Tan, MD, was an intern and resident in emergency medicine 22 years ago. Now an associate professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine, Tan was struck by Char’s genuine, personal interest in people and his love of teaching. “He is very patient with his students and eager to share his knowledge,” Tan said. “He is a real gem on our faculty, and we are lucky to have him.”

Brent Ruoff, MD, director of the Division of Emergency Medicine, said the breadth of Char’s career is unusual. “He has an amazing intellect and is very curious,” he said. “He looks at learning as an opportunity and turns opportunities into expertise. It’s phenomenal to have someone so reliable and with such high-performance standards in our division.”

Read the full profile on the School of Medicine site.

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