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Published on November 17, 2014

Franklin (Frank) L. Mitchell Jr., MD
In Memoriam: 1930-2014

Frank L. Mitchell, Jr.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Franklin (Frank) L. Mitchell Jr., M.D. — a pioneering trauma surgeon at University Hospital, national leader in improving trauma care, founder of University Hospital’s ground ambulance service and Staff for Life Helicopter Service — died November 14 at his home, surrounded by his family, at the age of 84.

Survivors include his wife, Marilyn (Lynn), of Columbia; three sons: Franklin (Tres) L. Mitchell III, M.D., and his wife, Diana, of Scottsdale, Arizona; Brian A. Mitchell and his wife, Karla, of Cincinnati, Ohio; and Richard Miller Mitchell of Atlanta, Georgia; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Arrangements are pending at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W. in Columbia.

Dr. Frank L. Mitchell

Franklin L. Mitchell Jr. was born June 18, 1930, in Kansas City, the son of Jessie Florene and Dr. Franklin L. Mitchell Sr. He grew up in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He met his future wife, Marilyn (Lynn) Miller, in 1950. At the time they met, Dr. Mitchell was an undergraduate student at MU, and Lynn was a student at Stephens College. They were married on August 8, 1953.

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in biological sciences from MU in 1951 and was selected for membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. He was also a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity at MU. He graduated from the MU School of Medicine in 1953 with a B.S.M. degree and received an M.D. degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1955. Dr. Mitchell was board-certified in general surgery and thoracic surgery.

“Frank Mitchell was a member of an elite group of pioneers who paved the way for trauma care, both nationally and internationally,” said Stephen Barnes, M.D., trauma surgeon and chief of the Division of Acute Care Surgery at University of Missouri Health Care. “Dr. Mitchell helped make modern trauma care what it is today. He did it modestly and quietly, with his top concern always what was best for the patient.”

As chair of the American College of Surgeons’ Trauma Verification Review Committee from 1987 to 1996, Dr. Mitchell led a national campaign to standardize the quality of care for injured patients. Through his leadership, a process was established to ensure hospitals throughout the nation met rigorous national standards for trauma care that Dr. Mitchell helped develop.

“Dr. Mitchell’s contributions to the University of Missouri, its health system, the MU School of Medicine and to trauma patients in Missouri and around the world cannot be overstated,” said Harold A. Williamson Jr., executive vice chancellor of health affairs.

From 1977 to 1999 — the longest tenure in the history of the plan — Dr. Mitchell served as chair of University Physicians, the group practice plan for MU School of Medicine faculty who practice at MU Health Care hospitals and clinics. Today, more than 500 physicians in over 70 subspecialties are members of University Physicians.

“Dr. Mitchell will be remembered for two enduring contributions to the School of Medicine,” said Les Hall, M.D., interim dean of the MU School of Medicine. “He helped establish MU as a national leader in state-of-the-art trauma care, which has saved thousands of lives, and he built University Physicians into one of the largest and most successful physician groups in Missouri.”

Dr. Mitchell began his 40-year career at University Hospital as a resident physician in 1959, following two years as a surgeon in a U.S. Army hospital in Germany. He had been drafted into the Army during his residency at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, after completing his four-year medical degree at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

As an Army surgeon, Capt. Mitchell treated soldiers injured in auto accidents and tank-crew training accidents, and he became familiar with Army medical evacuation helicopters — lessons that would be put to good use when he returned to civilian life.

Early on, Dr. Mitchell helped define what is now called “the golden hour” — that period of a few precious minutes when medical intervention can mean the difference between life and death.

In 1968, at a time when many ambulances were operated by funeral homes, Dr. Mitchell secured a grant to train hospital ambulance drivers and attendants. He worked with the MU College of Engineering to design University Hospital’s first ambulance, which was equipped with lights, a siren, medical equipment and space in the back for a patient and paramedic. His ambulance became a model for ambulances built throughout the United States. He also introduced a radio system so hospital staff could know and prepare in advance when a trauma patient was en route to the hospital.

After the introduction of more ambulances in Missouri, Dr. Mitchell recognized that if emergency responders had more consistent, specialized training, they could provide better care in the field and en route to the hospital. In 1974, he began the state’s first paramedic training course. It grew in popularity, and in 1978 Dr. Mitchell began training instructors who traveled throughout Missouri to teach more paramedics.

Always focused on improving the quality of patient care, Dr. Mitchell initiated a study in 1980 showing that 40 percent of trauma victims who died from serious injuries might have lived had they received rapid medical intervention. This study led to the development of University Hospital’s helicopter service in 1982.

Over the years, Dr. Mitchell served in numerous leadership roles at MU, including chief resident, general surgery (1961-62); chief resident, thoracic surgery (1962-63); assistant professor of surgery (1963-68); associate professor of surgery (1968-74); emergency medical service training director, University Hospital (1968-74); professor of surgery (1974-2000); University Physicians chair (1977-1999); trauma services director (1981-1994); University Hospital Level 1 Trauma Center director (1981-1994); director of the helicopter medical transport program at University Hospital (1982-2008); University Hospital EMS section chief (1983-1994); director of managed care programs (1993-2000); and professor emeritus (2000-2014).

Dr. Mitchell was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including MU School of Medicine’s highest award, the Citation of Merit (2003); the American College of Surgeons’ Outstanding Service Award (2002); the EMS Leadership Award (1994); the MU Faculty Alumni Award (1984) and the School of Medicine Distinguished Faculty Award (1994). In 1995, Dr. Mitchell received the elite Scudder Orator Award, presented annually to one surgeon in the country. He delivered the Scudder Oration on Trauma at the 81st clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons in October 1996. Dr. Mitchell was the author of chapters in nine books (including six books written by his colleague, Hugh Stephenson, M.D.) as well as numerous articles published in professional journals including the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the Journal of Trauma, and Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics.

Dr. Mitchell held leadership positions in a number of professional societies including the Boone County Medical Society, the Missouri State Medical Association, the Missouri State Surgical Society, the American Association of Medical Colleges, the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma and the American College of Surgeons.

In an interview in 2009, Dr. Mitchell explained why he had always worked to ensure University Hospital was at the forefront of trauma care.

“Everyone at University Hospital plays a role in saving lives,” he said. “The people of Missouri deserve the best possible medical care. We are the University of Missouri, and the medical school should serve as an example for optimal medical care.”

In 2002, MU Health Care named the Level 1 trauma program at University Hospital in honor of Dr. Mitchell. Since 2009, University Hospital has borne his name as home to the Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center.

Today, the Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center at University Hospital is one of only three adult Level 1 trauma centers in Missouri verified by the Committee on Trauma of the American College of Surgeons.

To receive the Level 1 trauma verification, University Hospital has demonstrated to the ACS that the hospital is equipped to handle the most serious types of injuries in adults and children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. University Hospital also demonstrated high standards for patient outcomes, performance and quality improvement, outreach and education.

Donations in memory of Dr. Mitchell may be made to the Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center at University Hospital, One Hospital Drive, DC205.00, Columbia, MO 65212.