Canadian Medical Association

Colonel (Retired) Ian Anderson, MD

Dr. Ian Anderson

When Canadian troops are deployed throughout the world, they know there are skilled military surgeons standing by to provide medical care if needed. That knowledge brings peace of mind.

Dr. Ian Anderson was confident of this when he enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces at McGill University while still a medical student. After his compulsory service as a general practitioner, he continued to train with the Armed Forces as a general surgeon in Ottawa and Toronto.

He had less confidence, though, after four years of treating military patients, their families and civilians in Cold Lake, Alberta.

Times had changed. The Cold War was over. Canada was downsizing its military, releasing both soldiers and medical personnel — including medical specialists.

The predictions that the newfound peace would last, however, were wildly inaccurate. Many countries disintegrated. Military units supported by small medical and surgical teams were in high demand around the world. Specialists such as Dr. Anderson were faced with a lack of clinical work at home and high-frequency but low-intensity deployments abroad. Those competing demands put pressure on doctors to maintain and develop their surgical skills.

Dr. Anderson joined an arduous process of consultation with senior leaders, who finally realized the situation was untenable. The Armed Forces could not recruit and retain doctors to support military operations if they did not give them the chance to keep up their medical training.

Starting in 1997, the focus of military medical specialists became skill development. One of the first opportunities was trauma and critical care training at the University of Calgary, something Dr. Anderson pursued in 1999.

"Without this more robust high-intensity training, we would never have been able to go to Afghanistan and treat the high numbers of critical casualties, working with our allied military teams," he says.

Gathering evidence to make soldiers safer

Around the same time, Dr. Anderson was appointed to a number of NATO study groups to help improve body armour and protect soldiers from landmines. As a rare clinician among engineers and mathematicians, he brought to the table many of his own experiences and those of other surgeons, from Bosnia, Somalia and Afghanistan. This information and research with cadavers, simulators and innovative synthetic legs helped with the development and testing of new protective equipment and ideas. His contributions to these teams helped improve the integrity and practicality of these projects.

"Nothing is more important than reducing these types of injuries," says Dr. Anderson. "Once they happen, there's only so much we can do."

Teaching the next generation

Dr. Anderson retired from the military in 2012 and from active surgical practice in 2019. He continues to teach trauma care at the University of Calgary and is an active volunteer in support of cancer research and other causes.

Colonel (Retired) Dr. Ian Anderson is receiving the John McCrae Memorial Medal in recognition of his exemplary service as a clinical health service member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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