Chemistry alumna fights coronavirus in Ohio and globally

Diane Gorgas ’86

Diane Gorgas ’86 said that every day she spent at The College of Wooster as a chemistry major impacted her career. In all her positions at The Ohio State University, a professor, the vice chair of academic affairs in emergency medicine department, the executive director of the Office of Global Health, and an emergency physician and critical care specialist currently treating COVID patients, Gorgas draws on her experience from Wooster. “I owe 99% of my scientific curiosity to the faculty in the chemistry department. Their commitment to the student experience has served as a model for me ever since,” Gorgas said.

After attending medical school at Case Western Reserve University and completing her residency in emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati, Gorgas made the decision to pursue academic medicine rather than community practice in part due to her experience at Wooster. “What helped inform this decision was the instruction I received at Wooster and later in medical school and residency. I felt I had been educated by the best and the brightest and aspired to be that for the next generation of physicians,” she said. “I also never lost that scientific curiosity, and the academics allowed me to pursue answers to everyday questions about why we practice and why we educate the way that we do.”

Emergency medicine initially drew Gorgas because it reminded her of the liberal arts education she received at the College. “A lot of the same features of a liberal arts education are mirrored in emergency medicine. It is a field that has a great blend of problem solving and critical analysis but also technical skills,” she explained. “There is a breadth of knowledge that is sizable that you have to master but also the opportunity to become an expert in the emergent stages of any illness or injury.”

An important part of practicing emergency medicine for Gorgas is a commitment to giving high quality care to everyone, no matter their background or identity. “A passion for health equities is a necessity for choosing the field because we are the ultimate societal safety net for everyone,” she explained. As a student, Gorgas developed the open, accepting mind, crucial in her field. “Wooster was my first exposure to significant diversity—social, economic, religion, cultural, you name it,” she said. “The students and faculty I met while there really helped expand my view of the world and lit a fire in me to serve globally in low-income countries.”

Gorgas has cared for patients in Haiti and Central America, and currently leads curriculum design, assessment, and evaluation for a newborn survival program that began in Haiti and expanded to a number of countries in Africa. “To date, we have educated well over 1,000 health care professionals who serve a population base of greater than 100 million, and newborn survival statistics have universally improved in each of these countries,” Gorgas said. Recently, Ohio State’s global programs have pivoted their focus to coronavirus prevention. “Programs I manage in Haiti and Africa are being impacted by COVID-19 as well, so trying to answer their needs is a challenge,” Gorgas said. “Laying the groundwork for community trust in health care systems and hospitals in low-income settings has helped African nations fight the pandemic.”

Gorgas also leads on the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus in Ohio, where she treats COVID patients daily in the emergency department at Ohio State and works to “ensure safe, educationally effective training environments for all medical students and resident physicians nationally.” Gorgas educates other medical professionals on how to best respond to the pandemic through her position as a director on the American Board of Emergency Medicine. “We are creating policy and procedures for emergency physicians everywhere that ensure the public is being cared for at the highest standards,” she said.

Despite the demands of her work, particularly in this moment, Gorgas said that she finds every aspect of it fulfilling. “I love the variety in seeing nurses and doctors in Africa and Haiti, medical students, and residents grow and succeed to become independent,” she said. “I am privileged to feel I am making an impact in so many different ways.”

Above: Gorgas leads a newborn survival program in Haiti.

Posted in Alumni on September 2, 2020.

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