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Dr. Susan M. Briggs

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1943

Medical School

Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine



Career Path

Surgery: Vascular
Public health
Dr. Susan M. Briggs


Dr. Susan Briggs established and became the first director of the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT), an emergency response team, sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital.


Being a doctor is the best way to avoid the constraints of politics, as medicine is apolitical and allows us to treat all victims, regardless of age, race, nationality... I saw what I could accomplish as a surgeon would better fulfill my desire to provide a full spectrum of care to my patients with their many difficulties. Being a physician offered me the ability to provide medical care to individuals in many settings: hospitals, outpatients, disasters, and international health programs.


Susan M. Briggs, a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, established and became the first director of the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT), an emergency response team that, on short notice, organizes and sends teams of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals from throughout New England to emergencies around the globe.

Dr. Briggs graduated from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in 1974 and an M.P.H. in international health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1998. She is an attending general and vascular surgeon and associate director of the trauma service at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is also an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

On September 11, 2001, Dr. Briggs had just finished a routine procedure when she got a call from the Office of Emergency Preparedness in Washington, D.C. She quickly assembled a team of some sixty Boston-area medical professionals. Within hours, they were on their way to New York City, to provide disaster relief following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The group she led was a unit of the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT) and the Metro Boston Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT). It was also part of the National Disaster Medical System. IMSuRT members work as volunteers in bringing emergency care to victims of disaster. Their services include triage (a system of sorting and treating patients according to the severity of their medical condition), medical treatment, support for local medical staffs, and preparation for patient evacuation.

Three months before September 11, Briggs's DMAT team had rehearsed for a mass disaster in a drill with the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other federal departments and agencies. They had also acquired experience in the U.S. and abroad in emergencies ranging from Hurricane Andrew in Florida to an earthquake in Turkey. Despite their preparation, the medical volunteers found the scene at Ground Zero in New York to be unlike that of any previous disaster. Their mission to aid victims of the World Trade Center collapse became an effort to support and care for rescue workers. Teamwork, adaptability, and creativity enabled these medical volunteers to meet the challenge.

Carrying sleeping bags and backpacks filled with personal essentials and medical supplies, they spent the first night at New York's Stewart Air Force Base. Because their planned site for a medical station had also been destroyed, they set up an alternative site on September 13. IMSuRT volunteers worked round the clock for the next nine days, caring for more than five thousand workers.

"Natural and man-made disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, industrial accidents, terrorists attacks and transportation accidents all present major challenges to disaster medical personnel," Briggs says. "Every disaster leaves behind devastated and disrupted lives. Our volunteer members are ready, with extremely short notice, to assist in catastrophes around the world."

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

My biggest obstacle was demonstrating that females can retain their female identity and still be excellent surgeons. We are unique but equal members of the medical community.

How did I make a difference?

I hope I have made a difference by serving as an early role model for women—that there are no limits to what they can accomplish if they are competent, caring professionals.

Who was my mentor?

My mentor was a trauma surgeon Dr. Donald Trunkey. He taught me the importance of good medicine, a sense of humor, and compassion as the keys to a successful medical career.

How has my career evolved over time?

My career has progressed over time from primarily a hospital-based career to increasing involvement in disasters and international health in the areas of emergency care and trauma. As I became more experienced in my surgical career, I wanted to share my expertise with those less fortunate, particularly those in other parts of the world. One of the more rewarding aspects of my career has been to work with colleagues internationally to develop better emergency care and trauma systems for their countries, such as in China.

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