At home or abroad, Miller School alumnus is prepared to serve

At home or abroad, Miller School alumnus is prepared to serve

By UM News

At home or abroad, Miller School alumnus is prepared to serve

By UM News
Captain John R. Rotruck, M.D. ’96, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy, which recently provided care to COVID-19 patients in Los Angeles, attributes his success to his time at the University of Miami.

This is not a typical mission for the USNS Mercy or its commanding officer, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine alumnus John Rotruck, B.A. ’95, M.D. ’96, M.B.A. ’17.

On March 27, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread across the United States, the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship usually deployed abroad, sailed closer to home. With a broad range of medical and surgical specialties onboard, including intensive care, neurosurgery, and others, it arrived at the Port of Los Angeles to serve as a relief valve for local hospitals focusing on caring for COVID-19 patients.

“Unlike our normal missions, we're actually here on home soil, treating our fellow Americans,” Rotruck said. “As many of us currently live in San Diego, coming to L.A. is like helping our next-door neighbors.”

But whether he’s serving abroad or at home, the three-time ‘Cane says his time at the University of Miami – which includes completing a bachelor’s, medical, and, later, business degree – helped prepare him for his career in the Navy Medical Corps, which has spanned more than 20 years.

Capt. Rotruck says his medical school training provided the foundation for his current understanding and awareness of disparities in medical care and care availability in different parts of the world, a crucial component of his work as a physician in the Navy and especially as commanding officer of the USNS Mercy (a typical mission for the Mercy involves docking in and working to expand health systems in other nations).

At the Miller School of Medicine, his exposure was broad. “You got to see truly state-of-the-art care and care delivery from birth to death, great primary and preventative care, along with care necessary to treat acute and chronic illness,” he said. He worked with a diverse patient population from a wide spectrum of socio-economic groups. Capt. Rotruck also saw a range of disease and illness and the way it can progress without medical care early on. This, he said, he would otherwise “only have seen in a textbook.”

And, perhaps most importantly, the Miller School gave him the confidence he needed to lead a successful career and thrive in operational environments where he is often the only physician around. “I had the opportunity to provide care with the right level of supervision, but not so much that I didn't really get the chance to really form my own boundaries and develop the sense of comfort and confidence in taking care of increasingly complex cases,” he said. “It’s allowed me to be successful even in austere circumstances.”

Following his graduation from the Miller School of Medicine in 1996, Capt. Rotruck took an internship in internal medicine at the National Naval Medical Center. He then spent a year in the Marine Corps and a period of time as a flight surgeon, before completing his residency at the National Capital Consortium in Bethesda, Maryland. He held various leadership roles, including a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, before being appointed as commanding officer of the USNS Mercy in 2018.

And though he originally joined the Navy to help cover tuition costs, Capt. Rotruck says he could not imagine a better place to work. “I got to take care of amazing people who are willing to go out on the front lines. I was able to deploy with them and support them from a medical perspective.”

The USNS Mercy sailed from the Port of Los Angeles in mid-May, once the State of California determined that they no longer required their services to respond to the pandemic.

Capt. Rotruck feels blessed to serve onboard. “The crew was extremely enthusiastic about the mission,” he said, “People get into this business because they want to help other people, and that's exactly what we did here.”