Release Date: March 29, 2022
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Last Friday, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that it was awarding to Aaron Epstein, MD, a University at Buffalo surgical resident, the prestigious 2022 Citizen Honors Award for Service.
The national award, administered by the same organization that bestows the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor, is considered the second-highest civilian award in the U.S. It recognizes those who distinguish themselves by their service or an act of heroism. The organization cited “Epstein’s commitment to providing medical relief to communities in conflict zones, austere environments and disaster areas around the world.”
But Epstein wasn’t in the U.S. to share the good news with colleagues, family and friends. Instead, he was at an undisclosed location in Ukraine, leading the Global Surgical and Medical Support Group (GSMSG) he launched in 2014 that quickly mobilizes American surgeons and surgical residents – many of them veterans – on missions to war zones and areas of great need.
Beginning with the ongoing crisis with ISIS, Epstein created the GSMSG to provide high-quality care to victims in Iraq in 2015. He started the group while still a medical student at Georgetown University and has made numerous trips leading teams to the Middle East and other conflict zones around the globe.
GSMSG has now expanded to more than 1,000 U.S.-licensed medical experts who cover every medical and surgical subspecialty, as well as U.S. Special Operations veterans. In 2020, Epstein was selected to receive the American College of Surgeons/Pfizer Resident Volunteerism Award.
As this CNN video explains, the group is teaching Ukrainians as young as high school age, and many with absolutely no medical background whatsoever, how to provide medical assistance on the battlefield. The training is focused on the kinds of injuries that are typically seen on the battlefield, such as penetrating wounds, which even medical personnel do not typically see in peacetime.
Epstein is in his fourth year as a surgical resident in the Department of Surgery in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.
“Aaron Epstein is one of those unique individuals whose supreme dedication to the cause of humanitarian care serves as an exemplar to us all,” said Steven Schwaitzberg, MD, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the department, himself a veteran of the Gulf War.
“He is unselfish and willing to go to some of the most difficult places on earth to help those who need medical and surgical care. There is no doubt he will continue to have a remarkable career.”
Allison Brashear, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, noted: “Dr. Epstein’s passion for delivering critical care to communities in crisis around the world, and leading others to do the same, is an inspiration to everyone at the Jacobs School and the entire UB community.”
Epstein’s return date to the U.S. is not yet known.