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College of Medicine Alumni Magazine: Fall 2023 Shaping the Field:
Deborah Kuhls, MD, MCP ’93, ELAM ’12


Deborah Kuhls, MD, MCP ’93:

It was a community doctor in her rural Wisconsin hometown who started Deborah Kuhls on the track to becoming a physician.

“He was a Renaissance man, a general practitioner who did everything, and he really encouraged me and was a role model.”

Years later, Kuhls has become something of a Renaissance person in her own right, developing a career with multiple facets and focus areas. To wit, her current titles and roles include: assistant dean for research, chief of the Division of Acute Care Surgery and professor of surgery at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV; and chief of trauma, University Medical Center of Southern Nevada.

Kuhls initially came to MCP for the post-baccalaureate program, transitioning from a stint in banking and taking advantage of MCP’s policy of reserving a few seats for nontraditional students. “I finished the post-bac and stayed on to attend medical school at MCP. I fell in love with surgery, and even though I was older than most students, I decided I really needed to follow my dream, if you will.”

Kuhls completed her general surgery residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and a fellowship in surgical critical care and trauma at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland.

Because she enjoyed teaching and mentoring other doctors, Kuhls decided to stay on in academia. “I loved that the faculty were up to date on the latest treatments and that they really offered first-class medical care to their patients. My professors were great models of professionalism, quality and compassionate care.”

She accepted a position at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, with the appointment of trauma ICU director at University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, largely because its trauma center was modeled after the shock center at the University of Maryland. Early on, she taught in the medical school and ran the surgery clerkship before being named assistant dean for medical education at the Las Vegas campus. She later became associate dean for academic affairs, transitioning to the University of Las Vegas when it opened up its own medical school in 2017.

Kuhls continues to prioritize teaching medical students, residents and fellows. “Nevada has one of the lowest numbers of physicians of any state in the U.S., so educating the next generation of doctors and surgeons is very important to me.” As assistant dean for research at the new medical school, she has led the effort to incorporate research and build an infrastructure to support it. Kuhls has also stayed active in a number of professional organizations, such as the American College of Surgeons, the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the Association of Women Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons, the American Public Health Association and many others. Her areas of interest include injury prevention (including firearm injury prevention), vehicular injury prevention, domestic violence and women in medicine.

In the wake of September 11, Kuhls became more concerned about disaster preparedness. “I realized our country and health care system need to be prepared to save as many lives as possible during both natural and manmade disasters. I took a number of courses and brought a course called Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness to Nevada, to help with hospital preparedness. Following the early 2000s tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people in Thailand, I led a team there to teach disaster preparedness.”

Then disaster hit home with the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, the largest mass shooting event in the U.S., which left 58 dead and more than 800 wounded. “I acted as the senior surgeon at our Level I Trauma Center. I have given probably 50 talks on disaster training since that time, and I continue to be engaged in this topic,” Kuhls says.

A high point of her career has been her work educating health care workers abroad. She has continued to travel to Thailand for many years to help the country’s military and surgical community develop a trauma system to optimize care and outcomes for injured patients. In addition to the training and courses she brought to Thailand, she developed an exchange program for physicians and nurses. For this work she was inducted as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Thailand in 2012.

Kuhls’ many interests and leadership roles mean she is quite busy and keeps long hours, but she would not choose any other path. “Having come to medicine later in life, I’ve felt compelled to follow my evolving interests and commit myself to giving back to the field.”

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