Gen. Mark Ediger found calling in military medicine
When Mark Ediger graduated from the UMKC School of Medicine in 1978, the U.S. Air Force wasn’t even on his radar screen.
Today, he’s Major General Ediger, with an office in the Pentagon. As Deputy Surgeon General for the United States Air Force, he supports the Surgeon General in overseeing operations for a $7.1 billion, 43,000-person integrated health care delivery system. His skills as a leader in the strategy, planning and execution of medical missions have contributed to joint medical support that saves the lives of Americans wounded in action.
Gen. Mark Ediger’s service to his country – as well as his university and his profession – led him to be named the 2013 Alumnus of the Year for the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
It’s been quite a journey for the man who started out with a goal of being a rural family physician.
Growing up in Springfield, he planned to attend UM-Columbia, earn a bachelor’s degree, then on to medical school and a private practice in a small town. The young man’s plans started to change, however, when he heard about the unique six-year medical program at UMKC.
It’s a challenging program, and the challenge intrigued him. Despite already being enrolled at the Columbia campus, he switched to UMKC.
Still, he followed the latter part of his original plan, opening a private practice in Harrisonville. It was rewarding, but Ediger’s appetite for challenge was left unsated. And just a short drive to the east was Knob Noster, home of Whiteman Air Force Base.
“About three years after I started my private practice, I joined the Air Force Reserve to get some experience and see if it interested me,” he said. “I knew that the Air Force was something I believed in, and I thought it would be worthy work to be part of an organization with that mission.
“During my time at Whiteman, I really came to appreciate the quality of the people in the Air Force medical service – the physicians and nurses were really quite excellent,” he added. “So in 1986 I decided to go on active duty.”
Ediger also saw parallels with his collegiate experiences.
“The way students learn to be physicians at UMKC, the school does a really nice job of producing patient-centered graduates who really see themselves as serving their patients. That’s what I valued about the school’s philosophy, and it turns out that is a very good match to serving as a medical professional in the military.”
For Ediger, the Air Force provided the perfect blend of opportunities to practice medicine, engage in medical research and take on leadership challenges.
“I was interested in aerospace medicine and there were opportunities to explore that,” Ediger said. “I also welcomed the opportunity to develop as a leader and take on leadership opportunities.”
Develop he did, eventually moving into command positions. He held three field commands before moving to the Pentagon, including one in a combat environment. That was in 2002-03, commanding a hospital in northern Saudi Arabia during the invasion of Iraq.
“It was an opportunity to be a commander and to work with the people in a medical organization and do things as a team, but also to help develop people who are part of the team and see them go on to do valuable things afterward,” Ediger said.
“I must point out that any success I’ve had in the Air Force has been as part of a team,” Ediger said. “I would add that I am honored the school is recognizing me.”
Ediger’s award, and those of the other alumni honorees, one from each school and the five university-wide awards of distinction, will be presented at the 2013 Alumni Awards luncheon on April 18. For information and tickets for the event, click here.