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Member Profile:
Dr. Scott Steele leads medical team in Afghanistan
's Paktika Province

Dr. Scott Steele

Dr. Scott Steele

Colorectal surgeons do not normally remove infected gallbladders, repair hernias, amputate crushed fingers and treat burn victims, but for Dr. Scott Steele, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps stationed at a forward operating base (FOB) in the mountains of Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, the rules of the game are a bit different.

Dr. Steele is one of two surgeons leading a nine-person medical team in support of American and allied troops operating in an area roughly 13 miles from the Pakistan border. The team also provides humanitarian assistance to the local population.

“Paktika Province suffers from a severe lack of critical infrastructure, and there is very little healthcare assistance available,” Dr. Steele explains. “The area lacks even the most basic medications that we take for granted, such as pain relievers and antibiotics. Local providers do their best with very limited resources, equipment, supplies and training,” he adds.

A weekly clinic for the local population offers Dr. Steele’s team the opportunity to provide medical services to local Afghanis. While Dr. Steele does not find himself treating many colorectal disease cases these days, he does see patients suffering from problems such as hernias, broken bones and burns.

The clinic also is designed to train local medics in basic procedures such as x-rays, drawing blood, casting/splinting, suturing and burn care.

“The clinic is critically important in terms of building cooperation with the local population. We are helping the patients we serve, while the medics we train are able to carry the skills forward and teach others,” Dr. Steele explains.

Dr. Steele must be available at all times at the FOB and does not go out to surrounding villages. He has, however, met many of the local populace and considers the Afghan people to be very hospitable, respectful and thankful for the care he and his team provide.

“Local residents lack basic amenities such as electricity and plumbing, but the local culture is very family-oriented and community-based. The people are amazingly resilient,” Dr. Steele adds.

Building bridges with the local population – winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people – is an important part of the mission, but Dr. Steele’s team is under no illusions about the main reason for their presence in Paktika Province: Medical support for battlefield operations.

Dr. Scott Steele

Dr. Steele outside the Forward Surgical Team tents in Amarah, Iraq.

Dr. Scott Steele

Dr. Steele‘s team performs a thoracotomy, following an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast attack.

“We support the men and women who are the real heroes; those who put their lives on the line every single day to clear insurgents from hostile areas and make this a safer place to live,” he says.

Dr. Steele’s medical team takes care of anyone who comes through the doors. They treat American soldiers, local residents, Afghan Army and Police members and coalition troops. They have even treated wounded enemy combatants, which Dr. Steele says many people are surprised to hear.

“We do not distinguish between the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys. Our job is to take care of injured patients to the best of our ability,” he says.

Dr. Steele served two tours of duty in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan last year.

An ASCRS Fellow, Dr. Steele graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point), then earned his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He completed his General Surgery Residency at Madigan Army Medical Center, Ft. Lewis, WA, and a Fellowship in Colorectal Surgery at the University of Minnesota.

“I was drawn to the specialty because of its variety,” he recalls. “Colorectal surgeons treat patients of all ages who suffer from benign and malignant diseases. We handle everything from major abdominal cases to minor procedures requiring simple outpatient surgery.”

Dr. Scott Steele
A weekly clinic for the local population offers Dr. Steele’s team the opportunity to provide medical services to the Afghan people.

Dr. Scott Steele

Dr. Steele and SPC Victoria Mariani treat a local resident who sustained burns in a gasoline station explosion.

He credits the examples set by his mentors, including Drs. Richard Billingham, Seattle, WA, Patrick Lee, Portland, OR, Ronald Place, Fort Knox, KY, and Eugene Sullivan, for their ability to “put patients at ease.”

He offers special thanks to “the staff at the University of Minnesota, who continue to support and mentor me to this day.”

Dr. Steele joined ASCRS because the Society offers “a unique opportunity to interact with peers and recognized leaders in the specialty,” he says. “Society leaders go out of their way to include junior members on committees, support the Young Surgeons Committee, and foster a collaborative and mentoring environment.”

Through Society membership, Dr. Steele also sees himself carrying on a proud tradition.

“What I am doing is not unique. Many ASCRS members have served in the military and in similar settings during past conflicts,” he says. “It is an honor to carry on that tradition. ASCRS has been tremendously supportive. Many members have sent emails, packages and words of encouragement. I think Society members should feel very proud of the support they provide to those serving our country. I for one, am extremely grateful.”