Roger D. Cole, MD, MA, FACS - Alumni Spotlight

Roger D. Cole, MD, MA, FACS

July 2015

Roger’s journey to Bioethics and the graduate program at Wake Forest University (MA ‘13) are best expressed through his own words.

“A personal medical crisis rekindled a longstanding interest in ethics in the spring of 2009. I had been a very active Otolaryngologist-Head and Neck surgeon for the previous 18 years. I had practiced medicine in multiple venues including: General Medical Officer and Otolaryngologist in the United States Navy; as a resident Head and Neck Surgeon; and for the previous 13 years in a busy private surgical practice. When I found myself on the other side of the knife due to degenerative spine disease, my career and my outlook on life changed. After my 3rd cervical spine surgery in 10 years I found myself disabled from private surgical practice and searching for a new professional and personal identity.

While searching, I discovered the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society of Wake Forest University. The first time I was allowed to drive after my cervical spine surgery was a trip to the Reynolda Campus for the Center’s Spring Bioethics conference. My most recent formal experience with medical ethics was as an undergraduate student in Michigan 30 years prior. It was at this conference that I met the faculty and staff of the Center and learned of the inaugural class for the Masters of Arts in Bioethics program. Being a Bowman Gray School of Medicine alumnus and having completed my Otolaryngology residency at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, I was well aware of the quality of education available for me at WFU. I decided to enroll for one class during the fall semester to see what returning to the classroom would be like after 25 years.

What stands out about my time as a student in the Master’s program can be summarized in one word: quality. I found quality education and instruction by learned faculty. I found quality students with a wealth of knowledge and experience. This opened up a new quality in my personal life and professional practice. I decided to enroll in the master’s program after the first semester as a part time student and completed my Master of Arts in Bioethics in May of 2013. During my time as a student I was fortunate to start a new chapter of my profession at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina. This position allowed me the opportunity to meld my interest in clinical bioethics with a return to part time clinical Otolaryngology. In 2010 I was selected by the VHA and The University of Chicago to complete a Fellowship in Clinical Medical Ethics at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics in 2011.

My bioethics education is something I use daily in my surgical practice. I have learned through my bioethics education that every time I encounter a patient there is a value based component to my interaction with my patient. My ethics education has allowed me to more clearly identify this component and address these values in a constructive way. I have used my bioethics education to help resolve ethical dilemmas within the Veteran Health Administration system in both clinical and policy forums. My thesis developed a curriculum for ethics education during surgical residency and I am fortunate to be able to use my bioethics education while continuing to teach medical students and surgical residents at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Edward Via School of Osteopathic Medicine. In this way I am passing on the knowledge imparted to me by my mentors at Wake Forest Center for Bioethics, Health and Society to the next generation of medical professionals.

I currently reside in Advance, North Carolina with my wife Susan and am currently employed as the Chief of Otolaryngology at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina. I actively serve on the hospital’s Clinical Ethics Committee, Preventive Ethics Committee, and provide ethical analysis and instruction for VISN 6 of the Veterans Health Administration. I hold an appointment as volunteer faculty at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Edward Via School of Osteopathic Medicine. When not taking care of patients or thinking deep ethical thoughts I enjoy spending time with our 7 children, their spouses and 3 grandchildren. When I carve out free time I chase trout with a fly rod in the cold mountain streams of North Carolina.”