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University of Missouri

Legacy of Care

Dr. Frank Mitchell did much to bring emergency medicine into the modern age.

Frank Mitchell

The late Frank Mitchell helped bring emergency medicine into the modern age. Photo by Rob Hill.

Few people have shaped Missouri health care more than Frank L. Mitchell Jr., BA ’51, BS Med ’53. The 40-year physician at University Hospital and national leader in trauma care died Nov. 14, 2014, in his Columbia home. He was 84.

In 1957, the U.S. Army drafted Mitchell during his medical residency and sent him to a 1,000-bed military hospital in Germany. During his service, Mitchell practiced trauma medicine at a level unknown in the civilian world. For starters, the Army used ambulances and helicopters with trained medical staff and on-board radios. By contrast, much of Missouri, including Columbia, still used funeral home hearses to transport the injured.

When Mitchell returned to Columbia in 1959 to practice medicine at University Hospital, he began to replicate, piece by piece, what he’d seen in the Army.

He helped usher in an era of ambulances, helicopters and paramedics. As the first chair of the American College of Surgeons’ Trauma Verification Review Committee, he helped establish rigorous national standards for trauma care centers and standardized quality-of-care practices, “Dr. Mitchell helped make modern trauma care what it is today,” says Dr. Stephen Barnes, trauma surgeon for MU Health Care and chief of the division of acute care surgery at the School of Medicine. “He did it modestly and quietly, with his top concern always what was best for the patient.”

During an interview with MIZZOU magazine in January 2013, Mitchell called his accomplishments a matter of being “fortunate.”

“All my life I’ve been fortunate that things happen, and I just happen to be in the right place,” he said. Modest indeed.

But Mitchell had more than mere luck; he had vision and the tenacity to make it happen. “There’s always people who don’t want to do something,” he said. But that doesn’t mean you should stop. “You can’t make everybody happy.”