Medical emergencies are worrisome and disruptive, especially when they occur off hours. If surgery is needed urgently, how quickly can a hospital respond? 

A group of surgeons from the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin adult Level I Trauma Center at Froedtert Hospital campus, the only one in eastern Wisconsin, is ready around-the-clock. They apply their expertise not only to trauma care but also to acute care surgery (emergency general surgery). 

Marshall Beckman, MD

“Acute care surgery is a progressive national trend,” said Marshall Beckman, MD, trauma surgeon, medical director for acute care surgery and MCW faculty member. “Emergency and trauma-related surgery is all we do, and we do it well because it is our specialty.” 

Froedtert Hospital was among the first in the country to adopt the acute care surgery model. Of the 18 trauma surgeons at Froedtert Hospital, two are in-house 24/7. They also operate at Froedtert Menomonee Falls Hospital. The group provided consults for more than 3,000 emergency surgery patients in 2022. Patients arriving at any Froedtert & MCW emergency department can be transferred to one of these hospitals for immediate surgery if their condition allows transport. 

“In the past, all general surgeons handled emergency surgeries. But as general surgery has grown more specialized, a dedicated system and dedicated surgeons are needed to care for patients with acute conditions,” said Patrick Murphy, MD, MPH, trauma surgeon, associate medical director for acute care surgery and MCW faculty member. “We manage resources so patients get the right care at the right time. When emergent patients arrive, an acute care surgeon is ready if needed.” 

Patrick Murphy, MD, MPH

Acute care surgeons serve patients with many conditions, the most common being gallstone disease, diverticulitis, perforations of the stomach, colon or small bowel, colon obstructions and wound care. 

Acute care surgeons — and the advanced practice providers who work alongside them — play an important role for patients with limited access to health care. Factors such as poverty, joblessness and health care system changes mean many people lack a primary care doctor. As a result, acute care surgeons do much more than operate. For example, a woman may arrive with a severe skin infection requiring surgery. During evaluation, the surgeon and his team might discover undiagnosed diabetes. They would get her diabetes under control in the hospital and arrange a diabetes follow-up appointment at discharge. 

The vast resources of the Froedtert & MCW health network also allow surgeons to consult a deep range of specialists.

“If the condition is not life-threatening,” Dr. Beckman said, “we arrange for other experts to operate, for instance, on the pancreas, the esophagus or to resolve a serious rectal injury. We stabilize patients and get other minds and hands involved in treatment.” 

Froedtert Hospital is pursuing the American College of Surgeons’ Center of Excellence designation for its Acute Care Surgery Program. 

“We’ll meet rigorous criteria for staffing, equipment and operating rooms to optimize patient outcomes,” Dr. Beckman said. 

Froedtert Hospital will complete the process in about a year, but Dr. Murphy believes it meets standards already. Accreditation will provide national validation emphasizing the excellent care patients can expect.

“It will confirm we’re providing patients with the highest level of emergency surgical care. It reflects our investment in meeting needs and expanding surgery care availability in the communities we serve.”