The UAMS Trauma Program has flourished under the leadership of Ron Robertson, M.D., FACS, for the past decade. With an eye toward many more years of outstanding trauma care for Arkansans, Robertson, professor and chair of the Department of Surgery, has turned over the program’s reins to Kyle Kalkwarf, M.D., FACS, assistant professor of surgery.
“Dr. Kalkwarf will be an exceptional trauma medical director,” said Robertson, who also serves as chief of staff for UAMS Medical Center. “In addition to being an excellent trauma and general surgeon, Kyle brings a strong commitment to quality improvement initiatives that will help take our trauma program to the next level.”
“Dr. Kalkwarf is a valued faculty member, and I am confident that he will continue to lead our trauma program to be one of the best in the nation,” said Michelle Krause, M.D., MPH, senior vice chancellor for UAMS Health and CEO of UAMS Medical Center.
Kalkwarf, who joined the faculty in 2018, is fellowship trained in surgical critical care and trauma. He has served as Trauma Quality Improvement Project (TQIP) leader since November 2020, as the quality officer for the Trauma Program since July 2021, and as UAMS operational leader for the PSI-12 (Patient Safety Indicator) initiative focused on decreasing pulmonary embolism and deep venous thrombosis in hospitalized patients since March 2022.
The UAMS Trauma Program became a national leader in trauma outcomes under Robertson’s leadership, regularly ranking in the top decile of Level I and Level II trauma centers based on the American College of Surgeons (ACS) TQIP metrics for mortality and complications. Kalkwarf and his colleagues have initiated projects to improve other quality metrics including catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI), pulmonary embolism, and reducing opioid dependence.
Quality measures are just one of the ongoing successes from Robertson’s tenure as trauma medical director and chief of the Division of Acute Care Surgery from 2013 to 2022. He also was integral in developing the Arkansas Trauma System and continues to provide ongoing contributions in multiple areas.
“UAMS and the College of Medicine are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Robertson on our faculty,” said Interim Dean and Executive Vice Chancellor G. Richard Smith, M.D. “While Ron is passing the torch on medical leadership of the trauma program, we continue to benefit from his leadership across multiple mission areas as well as his exceptional collegiality.”
With the launch of the statewide trauma system in 2009, the Arkansas Department of Health designated UAMS as the state’s only adult Level I Trauma Center. A pivotal achievement was the verification of UAMS as an adult Level I Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons in 2017. With a rigorous review process every three years to ensure continued compliance with national guidelines for trauma care, the ACS Level I designation signifies UAMS’s ability to provide the highest level of care for complex cases and the most severely injured patients from across the state.
The volume of trauma cases at UAMS has more than tripled over the past decade. While this growth continued after the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the UAMS trauma team maintained its focus on quality and improving care.
In 2021, under the leadership of Ben Davis, M.D., the current director of the Division of Acute Care Surgery, ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) life-support technology was implemented at UAMS by surgeons and team members from other disciplines. ECMO enables UAMS to care for the sickest trauma patients by providing a means to ventilate and oxygenate the blood of those who are too injured for their lungs to perform those functions.
Additional clinical accomplishments for the Trauma Program in recent years include implementing a statewide mental health program for trauma patients and a neuropsychology program for brain-injured patients.
Education and scholarly work also have remained an important focus of the program. An ACGME-accredited Surgical Critical Care Fellowship Program was established in the Department of Surgery in 2018 to help ensure ample critical care and trauma surgeons for Arkansas in the years to come. Robertson and colleagues have produced scores of trauma-specific peer-reviewed publications.
Robertson also has been a staunch advocate for statewide trauma education throughout his 28-year career at UAMS, serving as the state and regional director for the ACS Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course. In this role, he has led more than 300 courses and taught the latest trauma care techniques to more than 4,500 physicians and advanced practice providers from Arkansas and across the nation.
Robertson has served as chair of the Department of Surgery since 2019 and has held numerous clinical leadership roles at UAMS. Among many honors, he was invested as the inaugural holder of the Gilbert S. “Gil” Campbell, M.D., Ph.D., Chair in Surgical Leadership and Innovation at UAMS in October 2022. In 2018, Arkansas Business named him the Health Care Heroes Physician of the Year.
Kalkwarf received his bachelor’s degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point and his medical degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. He completed his general surgery residency at UAMS in 2011-2016. Kalkwarf continued his training at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, completing an American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST) Trauma Fellowship and an ACGME Surgical Critical Care Fellowship.
Kalkwarf was on the teaching staff in the Department of Surgery at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston and worked part-time as a surgical intensivist at MD Anderson Cancer Center before joining the UAMS faculty in 2018. During his first year in Arkansas, he was an attending general surgeon and surgical intensivist at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. Kalkwarf is being promoted to associate professor, effective July 1. Kalkwarf served as a Governor-appointed Arkansas Trauma Advisory Council member from 2020 to 2022. He was named a vice-chair of the Arkansas Chapter of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma in 2021. He was appointed associate trauma medical director at UAMS in 2022. Also that year, he began serving as the medical consultant to the Arkansas Trauma System and its 64 trauma centers.