PHTLS founder Dr. Norman McSwain dies

The internationally admired New Orleans trauma surgeon and paramedic died from complications of a stroke

Editor's Note: Read memories of and tributes to Dr. McSwain from EMS1 contributors, columnists and readers. McSwain's lifelong work to reduce mortality and injury from trauma has  had a global impact on millions of people. 

NEW ORLEANS — Dr. Norman McSwain, 78, died in his home in New Orleans Tuesday after suffering a stroke two weeks ago. 

The internationally renowned  trauma surgeon was also a certified paramedic and founded the National Association of EMTs Prehospital Trauma Life Support program 30 years ago. McSwain worked throughout his career to ensure that civilian and military EMS providers received high-quality trauma care education, according to an NAEMT statement

“McSwain is admired and beloved by the EMS community across our country, as well across the globe, who have been impacted by his vision and passion for excellence in patient care,” NAEMT’s statement said.  

Norman McSwain, MD, FACS (Image courtesy NAEMT)
Norman McSwain, MD, FACS (Image courtesy NAEMT)

The PHTLS program has trained more than a million people and saved countless lives. "People love him and love the program (PHTLS) for that, and that's why we have people in over 60 countries doing the work, because we believe in the community,” said Will Chapleau, PHTLS chairman in an interview with WWLTV.  

McSwain's numerous speaking and writing accomplishments are detailed in his Tulane University biography. Some of those accomplishments include developing the Kansas EMS education system early in his career. Next he joined the academic and clinical faculty at Tulane, with an interest in Charity Hospital and prehospital patient care. McSwain was recruited by New Orleans to develop an EMS system for the city. At the same time he was recruited to the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma  to assist in developing the Advanced Trauma Life Support program, followed by working with the ACS/COT and the NAEMT to develop PHTLS. 

McSwain has written or revised more than 25 textbooks, published more than 360 articles and traveled throughout the world giving more than 800 presentations. He has lectured in all 50 states, all provinces in Canada, most of the countries in Europe, most of the countries 
in Central America, and the upper part of South America. 

McSwain is the only person in the history of the American College of Surgeons to receive all five major trauma awards:

  • Committee on Trauma, Meritorious Achievement Award for State/Provincial Chairs, 2001.
  • Scudder Orator, 2001.
  • Committee on Trauma Millennium Commitment Award, 2000.
  • Surgeon’s Award for Service to Safety, National Safety Council, 1998.
  • Advanced Trauma Life Support Meritorious Service Award, Committee on Trauma, 1989.

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