It was while he was doing his residency in surgery at Rutgers that Fraser realized what his life’s work would be. “I found there was no one better. I wanted to do surgery all day and all night. I still feel the same way. I have a passion for helping people when they need it most.”
Dr. Fraser, whose research has appeared in publications ranging from the Journal of the American Medical Association to the American Journal of Surgery, is also making a name for himself as a teacher.
Trauma surgeon Dr. Allison McNickle, who completed the Acute Care Surgery Fellowship in 2018 prior to beginning work as an UMC trauma surgeon and as an UNLV Assistant Professor of Surgery, calls Fraser her mentor. “He sets very high standards for himself and for fellows. He pushes you to be your best. He challenges you. He’s not afraid to tell you that you could do better...if there’s a specific course somewhere that he thinks could help you, he’ll send you to it.”
Dr. Fraser says he noticed in the first few months of her training that Dr. McNickle could become an exceptional trauma surgeon. “I feel like I notice everything to a fault...She’s very purposeful, laser focused. She thrives in the operating room. She’s very fast and smooth. She doesn’t have to do things over again...She’s the kind of surgeon we want to keep here.”
Quick to point out that success in trauma care can only come with medical professionals working as a team -- there are frequently more than a dozen people working on one case -- Dr. Fraser says trauma nurses, residents, medical students, fellows, anesthesiologists, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, and blood bank lab technicians all understand what they must do.
“When the trauma pagers go off, we are required to attend to a patient that can be very sick and have multiple things going wrong with them all at once. To an observer, a trauma resuscitation can seem like chaos...however, we all have assigned jobs and each person is designated to one specific thing for that patient. The job of the trauma surgeon is to organize what appears to be chaos and make sure that the patient is getting everything done in a rapid fashion for the best possible outcome...the trauma surgeon can make all the difference if the right things are done in the right order in the right amount of time.”
In the wake of the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting on the Strip that killed 58 people and wounded 413, Fraser said one of the lessons he’s learned over the years working in trauma is that you see the worst of the worst. “You can’t always save everybody. You have to shake it off, compartmentalize, and move on to the next patient. The next person depends on you. You can’t dwell on something that’s happened because that wouldn’t be fair to the next person.”
Talking to the loved ones of someone who didn’t make it is never easy. Dr. Fraser says that when relatives learn that their family member was so severely injured that they didn’t suffer at the hospital, many find that reassuring. “And I have to remind young surgeons who feel awful that a patient died that they weren’t the ones driving drunk or the guy who pulled the trigger.”
Dr. Fraser says he feels fortunate to have so many people committed to saving lives working at the trauma center. “It’s a real privilege to be leading individuals with one common goal. As far as I’m concerned, I’m working with the best nurses in the country when it comes to trauma care...Both Dr. Paul Chestovich, chief of trauma research, and Dr. Deborah Kuhls, director of the trauma intensive care unit as well as an incredible researcher, do tremendous things with their leadership. Dr. Syed Saquib is doing an amazing job as director of the burn center so I can concentrate on trauma. I could go on and on. Trauma care is really team care.”
To this day, Dr. Fraser’s antics as a boy -- he shared some of them with the Review-Journal in 2016 -- still provoke laughter. It was in elementary school that he convinced his 5-year-old sister, Laura, to throw her beloved Care Bears to the ground from a second floor balcony. Why? So he could practice bringing them to safety in case a stranger came along and threw them to the ground.
After the Care Bears hit the ground, Fraser rigged a rope from the balcony’s railing and then ran downstairs and put the bears in a laundry basket. He then attached the rope to the basket and pulled the bears to safety, to the squealing delight of his sister, who quickly stopped crying.
“I practiced my technique on her Care Bears more than once,” Dr. Fraser says, laughing. “I guess I knew early on that so much of success is in the preparation.”