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Black Emergency Medicine Specialist Lends Expertise to Virginia Tech Panel

Dr. Marcus Martin was already effortlessly juggling three balls as a professor and an administrator in two offices at the University of Virginia.

Then, in the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech on April 16, Gov. Tim Kaine tossed another ball into the rotation.

He appointed Martin as vice chair of the Independent Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel, which has been charged with investigating the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.

In three months of juggling these four important responsibilities, Martin hasn’t slowed his pace, nor dropped a ball.

In addition to his posts as the new associate vice president of diversity and equity, an assistant dean of UVa’s medical school and a professor in the department of emergency medicine, Martin has brought his extensive background in emergency medicine to the review panel.

“It has been my honor to serve,” Martin says. “I’ve been focusing mainly on the emergency medical services aspect and reviewing the emergency medical response to the tragedy. I have had the opportunity to interview most of the EMS personnel and hospital emergency department personnel involved in the patient care efforts.”

The eight-member panel has been reviewing the shootings during that fateful April morning, when Seung-Hui Cho fatally gunned down 32 people and wounded 25 others before taking his own life.

Col. W. Gerald Massengill, the retired superintendent of the Virginia State Police and the chair of the review panel, has experience dealing with tragedies and emergencies. He led Virginia’s law enforcement efforts on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists crashed a plane into the Pentagon, located in Northern Virginia. And he was in charge during the sniper attacks that terrorized the Washington, D.C., region during the fall of 2002.

Martin has more than 30 years of experience in emergency medicine and is one the nation’s most preeminent authorities on the subject. He served as the chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UVa for 10 years before taking on his two current administrative posts. Previously, he worked as an associate professor, vice chair and acting chairman of the emergency medicine department at the Medical College of Pennsylvania-Allegheny Campus and as the director of the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at the Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“The tragedy obviously is one that has some pretty serious implications, not just for those of us in higher education, but for people all over the country,” says Dr. William B. Harvey, UVa’s first and current vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity. “So I think getting someone with Marcus’s background in emergency medicine positions — a scholar, a person who has distinguished himself at the university — I think it was a very good choice by the governor.”

Martin is a native of Covington, Va., a small mountain town near the West Virginia border. He graduated from North Carolina State University and Eastern Virginia Medical School, trailblazing for Blacks at both institutions. He was the first Black varsity football player at NCSU and the first Black person to graduate from EVMU.

“Those times were really growing times for me, in which I really learned about diversity or the lack thereof,” he says.

Martin had served as the clinical director of a summer program for underrepresented pre-med students and worked continuously on efforts to increase the number of students of color in medical school, so he says he had no problem last summer walking out of the emergency room and focusing his attention on diversity issues.

Martin says he still remembers first talking to Harvey about serving in the diversity and equity office in June 2006.

“We talked about it and he asked me if I would serve,” Martin says. “The rest is history, and I have more history to make.”

That includes, says Harvey, helping UVa’s office for diversity and equity, which recently received a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, implement a plan to increase the number of minority students who graduate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

For the next few months, though, the primary history Martin will make will be with the Virginia Tech review panel. 

The panel plans to provide a preliminary report with policy recommendations in late August, before the fall semester begins. The report will probably include a detailed timeline of events, Cho’s mental history, a review of the actions of the university, police and medical personnel on the day of the shootings and an evaluation of gun access and purchase laws.

“I am hoping that there will be some consolation coming out of this in terms of allaying fears,” Martin says.

“I am hoping that the gun control laws will be revamped such that we can minimize guns in the hands of those who are imminently dangerous.”

– Ibram Rogers

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