About the Discussion

Fascinating Physician: Dr. Robert Oh, Office of the Surgeon General of the Army

What is military medicine? And what does Lieutenant Colonel Robert Oh, MD, do as the Physician Lead of the System for Health and Performance Triad at the Office of the Surgeon General? And what's it like in a day of the life of Dr. Oh? How does a career in military medicine compare with civilian life? These are just some of the questions we hope to learn the answers to!

But first, what the heck is "The Performance Triad?" 

According to the Army Medicine website, the Performance Triad  is a comprehensive plan to improve readiness and increase resilience through public health initiatives and leadership engagement. The Triad is the foundation for Army Medicine's transformation to a System For Health. The focus of the Performance Triad is on Sleep, Activity, and Nutrition - key actions that influence health in the "Lifespace" of time that isn't spent with a healthcare provider. As a result, the biggest impact on Health is made by making better choices in our Lifespace. 

Well, well, this Performance Triad sounds pretty nifty. And I think that begs the questions, "Does the Army have a better grasp on preventative health than civilian life? Is this the result of a single payer system? Is it single payer systems who are leading the way in taking responsibility for preventative health as a key element of medicine?"

We want to hear everyone's thoughts, especially Dr. Oh's!

(And I think we're also all wondering if Dr. Oh is related to Grey's Anatomy's Sandra Oh? No?)

--Introduction written by Jennifer Joe, MD

Questions and Answers

What is a unique trait that you need to be good at your job and why?

As a physician, specializing in family and sports medicine, if I talk to my patients about healthy lifestyle choices, especially about nutrition and exercise, I must walk the walk.

In addition, my job in the Army is to be ready at all times—whether it’s to deploy to combat or for a humanitarian mission.  So, part of my “job” is what we like to call “human performance optimization,” keeping healthy, fit and strong.  In the Army we have this really exciting initiative called the “Performance Triad.”  As one of top initiatives of the Army Surgeon General, the Performance Triad puts health and wellness in the forefront in human performance optimization.  We want Soldiers and everyone else in the Army family physically, mentally, and emotionally strong and resilient.  We believe that the Performance Triad is a key enabler in optimizing health and we want to get that message across to the entire Army.

What is the most pivotal moment in your career and why?

Joining the Army was the most pivotal moment in my career. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. I took a three year scholarship thinking I’d serve my time and get out to help pay for my education.  Well, the Army has provided so many opportunities, that’s it’s now been more than 16 years since I signed on the dotted line. I started at a top notch residency program in Northern Virginia, then I had the opportunity to explore all of Europe, and pursue a fellowship where I received my Masters of Public Health at the University of Washington. After that, I had the chance to spend eight years in paradise as associate program director, program director and service chief at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Most recently, the Army has allowed me a mid-career shift to pursue a sports medicine fellowship in the Washington D.C. area, where I live with my family.  Even my deployments to Kosovo and Iraq have been unbelievable, challenging and unforgettable experiences where I was able to literally save lives and help people. I just recently signed up for four more years—that will total a full two decades in the Army! When I look back, I’m still amazed at the experience I’ve had thus far.

Who was the most influential person on your career and why?

In terms of my heroes in medicine—there are several.  There have been so many outstanding individuals in my career, but to name a few, first: COL Tom Hustead.  He was a year ahead of me in my residency.  He’s a West Point grad, attended Case Western for medical school, and is an all-around super smart, outgoing man of faith.  I’ve known him for my entire career in the Army. He’s been such an encouragement and has really shaped how I look at medicine. What I admire most about him is that he models a work-life balance—he’s the best at it I’ve seen, and I’m always trying to emulate finding that elusive balance. 

Others include Dr. Tom Howard, an amazing full scope family physician who was my first residency director. He’s able to deliver babies, teach inpatient medicine and still do sports medicine, even as residency director.

Finally, COL Fran O’Connor—a giant in sports medicine. He was one of the early pioneers of sports medicine and I met him when I was an intern and he was the fellowship director at the Uniformed Services University at Fort Belvoir. He taught me much then, and he is still teaching me today!  He’s currently Department Chair of Military Medicine at the Uniformed Services University but he remains an active faculty in the Sports Medicine fellowship.  Such a world-renowned sports medicine physician, every time I have an interaction with him, I learn something new.

What was the most surprising medical development in the past year?

What’s surprising is the power of the people to be informed and make health decisions, especially the influence of social media and open sourced information online. People are starting to take responsibility for their own health—and we as clinicians shouldn’t be scared of social media, blogging and the Internet —we should embrace it!

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