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PYSK: Dr. Jeffrey Coughenour

How well do you know Dr. Jeffrey Coughenour? He’s the medical director of the Frank L. Mitchell, Jr., MD, Trauma Center and an associate professor of clinical surgery and emergency medicine.

MU Health Care

Job description
Surgical care of the acutely ill and injured, training medical students and surgical residents, and a plethora of administrative adventures, primarily oversight of the trauma program and air medical service.


Years lived in Columbia
11 years.

BA in biology and an MD from University of Missouri – Kansas City, which took seven years. General surgery residency, also at UMKC, which took five years. Fellowship in trauma and surgical critical care at the University of Kentucky, which took two years. Yep, 14 years.

Professional background
Clerk in the emergency department at Moberly Regional Medical Center, EMT in Randolph County (high school) and Kansas City (undergrad). Each provided invaluable real-world experience. When I was a kid, I would pretend my bike was a fire truck or ambulance.

Favorite recent project
We are currently preparing for our next verification visit from the American College of Surgeons’ Committee on Trauma. As one of only four such trauma centers in Missouri, maintaining our college verification is an immense source of pride to the entire team.

A Columbia doctor you admire
Dr. W. Kirt Nichols, general and vascular surgeon. As you mature in the OR and beyond, it’s imperative to find someone with a distinguished career because every so often you have to ensure your decision-making, and your surgical soul, is grounded. After nearly 50 years, he’s seen it all at least once.

Why you are passionate about being a surgeon
Because I want to help people? I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time answering this question. Most in medicine would agree certain personalities fit certain specialties. This is a good fit for me. It’s about making immediate moves with imperfect and incomplete data and standing by them (which is why we’d make way better politicians than lawyers do). Do I need a CT scan? Does this patient need an immediate operation? What are the consequences if I’m wrong? We have to answer all those questions in quick time.

A more philosophical answer is “because I think it’s why I’m here.”

What people should know about being a trauma surgeon
I’m a general surgeon first — addressing common problems such as appendicitis, gallbladder issues, intestinal surgery, hernias. Then there’s trauma or unintentional injury: car crashes, falls, shootings, stabbings. Multiple issues often prevent us from referring to them as “accidents,” though, like no seat belts, distractions, drugs and alcohol. Regardless, the end result is a broken human — physically, emotionally, or both. We do what we can to fix or remove the damaged parts, embracing borderline-OCD tendencies to assure organ systems work normally again. All the while, we’re doing our best to guide expectations of frightened family members and advocating for that element of personal accountability that seems to guarantee a successful recovery. And I’d be remiss for not mentioning the ability to engage a patient with a very warm, human connection, and five minutes later deal with another in an ice-cold, mechanic-like approach to stop audible bleeding, knowing death is imminent. I think many of us have that switch, otherwise I think we’d head for an early retirement.

Why you are passionate about working for the hospital
We can’t do the job without a small army of dedicated professionals: nurses, scrub techs, social workers, the folks that clean the rooms and cook the meals.

The next challenge facing the health care industry
Season 17 of Grey’s Anatomy. Seriously ABC. Stop CPR – pronounce.

Actually, anything that further divides the patient from their surgeon: finances, reimbursement, productivity metrics, insurance companies, physician and surgeon shortages, burnout. Buy me a beer and we can chat more. But not about Grey’s or The Resident. Awful.

If you weren’t doing this for a living, you would
Be a meteorologist. I love spring thunderstorms. And I could worry a whole lot less about being wrong.

Your next professional goal
Recall what my last professional goal was, before I got distracted, and finish it. Continue working on Missouri’s statewide emergency care system.

Biggest lesson learned in medicine
Patients don’t read like textbooks — they don’t always present like the book says they’re supposed to. Pay attention, look for patterns, keep an open mind, and expect to be humbled each and every day.

Favorite volunteer or community activity
Missouri Task Force 1. I primarily provide general health care to task force members, but we’re ready for anything. It’s an amazing group of dedicated individuals — engineers, rescue technicians, search, planning, logistics — all volunteering their time to train and remain immediately available to Missouri and beyond. I’ve been to Colorado for catastrophic flooding, to Hurricane Matthew in the southeast U.S., and, most recently, to Jefferson City in the spring of 2019.

How you want to impact the Columbia community
Maintain our group of six dedicated surgeons, two of which are always available, and the trauma center infrastructure that makes our work possible. I’ll never professionally meet the majority of our community, but for those we do meet, trust we’ll do the best we possibly can.

Favorite place in Columbia
38 degrees 52 minutes 26.3 seconds north latitude, 92 degrees 20 seconds 20.2 minutes west longitude. There’s a particular tree along this gentle ridge that’s perfect to lean against.

Favorite Columbia restaurant and a dish/drink you’d recommend
Chris McD’s. A Woodford Manhattan, up, and the grilled tenderloin filet, medium. Every time.

Favorite recreational activity
Hiking, by far. It’s physical and mental: route-finding, understanding local weather, or pushing on when you’re tired and out of breath.

Go-to vacation spot
Rocky Mountain National Park.

What you do for fun
Swim, hike, spend time with a small group of lifelong friends, hang out of helicopters. (Thank you MO TF-1/MoARNG!)

Accomplishment you are most proud of
When either of my boys look up from an electronic device, unprompted, and say “Daddy, I love you.”

Most people don’t know that you
Don’t work in the ER (at least not all the time).

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