Dr. Mark Ervin was named associate director of the Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS) located in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in August 2020. He retired as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force where he held numerous leadership and medical positions during his 28-year military career, including command surgeon, chief of clinical services and chief of operational medicine. At REAC/TS, Ervin will provide management and medical leadership, participate in all aspects of emergency response for radiological/nuclear incidents and contribute to the education of health care professionals involved in radiological/nuclear incidents. planning, and manage all professional and technical activities of radiation emergency management at REAC/TS. We had the opportunity to touch base with him about his background and his enthusiasm and plans for REAC/TS as he assumes this new role.
What about your experience and skillset makes you well suited for this new role with REAC/TS?
I'm from Georgia originally, born and raised in the Atlanta area. After college and medical school, I started what turned out to be a 28-and-a-half-year career in the U.S. Air Force. I'm a general surgeon by training and have maintained my clinical practice throughout those entire 28 years. Over those years, I've had some really unique opportunities. In the last 12 years, everything I have done has been a first. New jobs were created for me where gaps existed, problems needed to be solved and mechanisms didn’t exist to solve them. That's been really exciting. It's an opportunity every four or five years to re-scope what's important, learn a new skillset and find ways to make a difference where there was no force before to make those differences.
I'm now in San Antonio where I was the Chief of Operational Medicine at the 59th Medical Wing. Before that, I was the medical director for en route critical care at Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in the St. Louis area. That was a unique job where we realized that we were going to have to be able to return patients that were critically injured from some very remote areas. We built teams and tactics, techniques and procedures to be able to safely move some brave American soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines—our heroes who had suffered for their country—and bring them home with the best care available and to recover them safely and get them back with their families.
Before that I was the Command Surgeon for Special Operations Command Europe, which really had a unique opportunity as we work with our NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) partners to try to lift and empower our providers, but also our combat medics in a number of countries, to be able to provide the best possible care for their soldiers and ours, if needed. I had a lot of opportunity to engage internationally, not only just with the teams. Sometimes there were politics and legal requirements that have been placed on these medics, so the opportunity to interface with different cultures and find ways to empower medics from other countries to do the work we needed them to do. As a result, we actually changed some laws in foreign countries in order to empower them.
What excites you about REAC/TS?
First, the mission. The team’s job is to provide medical advice and emergency response consultation, as well as a specialized cytogenic biodosimetric dose assessment capability. Ultimately, though, it comes down to responding to humans who have potentially been injured by some sort of nuclear or radiation source—that common driver of taking care of people who need help, and who have unique injuries not seen by the vast majority of providers, either here in the United States or internationally. Being the 24/7/365 resource that is counted on when a provider anywhere across the world but particularly within the US, doesn't know what to do, they can call us and they can get answers and help. As always, it's about the patient.
What are your hopes for REAC/TS?
I think that REAC/TS, like any organization people count on, constantly has to prove itself. We always have to be ready. We can never get complacent. We are always looking over the horizon for what the next challenge may be, and the entirety of the institution really embraces, no matter what happens, that we are ready. Whether it's education and training, whether it's knowledge, whether it is exploring new opportunities and new possibilities, whether it's through advancing science, whether it's supporting research or performing the research ourselves, REAC/TS is already at the top of the mountain waiting for the rest of the crew to come. I want that sort of drive, that professionalism and that sense of duty and honor to serve to continue. I think if those underlying themes continue in REAC/TS, whatever the challenge is, we'll be ready for it.
The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.
ORISE is managed by ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.osti.gov.