USU Surgeon Lauded for Her Commitment to Service

Air Force Colonel (Dr.) Kerry P. Latham was honored with the prestigious ACS/Pfizer Military Surgical Volunteerism Award.

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Kerry P. Latham accepted the ACS/Pfizer Military Surgical Volunteerism Award during the annual ACS Clinical Congress in Boston, Oct. 22-26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Army Col. Danielle Holt)
Air Force Col. (Dr.) Kerry P. Latham (center) accepted the ACS/Pfizer Military Surgical Volunteerism Award 
during the annual ACS Clinical Congress in Boston, Oct. 22-26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Army Col. Danielle 
Holt)

November 8, 2023 by Zachary Willis

A remarkable figure in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery took center stage recently for her outstanding contributions to volunteer and humanitarian activities. 

Air Force Colonel (Dr.) Kerry P. Latham was honored with the prestigious ACS/Pfizer Military Surgical Volunteerism Award. The prestigious award was bestowed by the American College of Surgeons and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals during the annual ACS Clinical Congress in Boston, Oct. 22-26, 2023.  The award is given to recognize a military surgeon of any surgical specialty who is “committed to giving back to society” by making significant contributions to surgical care through volunteer and/or humanitarian activities beyond the course of their assigned military duties. 

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Kerry P. Latham is a distinguished plastic and reconstructive  surgeon, educator, and leader. (Photo courtesy of Army Col. Danielle Holt)
Air Force Col. (Dr.) Kerry P. Latham is a
distinguished plastic and reconstructive 
surgeon, educator, and leader. (Photo courtesy
of Army Col. Danielle Holt)
Latham, a distinguished plastic and reconstructive surgeon, educator, and leader, has made a significant impact in her field over the past two decades. She graduated from the Uniformed Services University’s (USU) F. Edward H├ębert School of Medicine, where she returned later to take on an influential role as deputy chair in the Department of Surgery, contributing to the education and training of future military medical professionals.

Latham’s dedication to volunteerism began during her third year of medical school, when she used her free time to visit the Philippines to learn more about global surgery, short mission healthcare delivery, and global partnership. It was there that she got to observe a cleft lip surgery that set the course of her career.

“I asked the surgeon if I could observe this surgery, and she invited me to scrub in. The surgery took about an hour. He [the patient] was the last one of the day so I didn’t get to talk to him after the surgery about how he felt, because he was groggy from anesthesia,” Latham said. “The next morning, I bolted into the hospital to talk to him. I couldn’t wait to see his reaction to how wonderful he looked. When I got there, sitting with him was a teenage girl, holding his hand. And they were smiling at each other and happy… I had no idea you could change somebody’s life with an hour of your time.”  Latham decided then and there that she wanted to be a craniofacial plastic surgeon, helping patients with facial differences live full lives. 

Over the years, Latham has used her surgical talents to provide reconstructive services – including acute and chronic cleft care and burn reconstruction, acute trauma care, and tumor and cancer surgery – to patients around the world. Since her first volunteer experience in the Philippines, Latham has participated in more than 20 missions. 

Latham has also used her talents to develop resources, like a surgical mission planning document for team and patient safety that is in use by a number of nations, and also the Department of Defense. 

Latham offers courses, mentorship and seeks to develop partnerships for local medical leaders, nurses and surgeons while actively involved in her international volunteer efforts. She is a dedicated advocate, working with leaders to seek funds, resources, and placement of surgical and health services. Among her successful endeavors, according to the ACS, Latham raised funds for physical therapy equipment for pediatric burn victims in Afghanistan and “donations for a life-changing surgery for a child in Barbados through a partnership with the only craniofacial surgeon in-country and the ministry of health.”

"We are immensely proud of Dr. Latham's remarkable achievements," said Dr. Eric Elster, dean of USU's School of Medicine. "This award is a testament to her volunteer spirit, dedication, compassion and surgical expertise, and she continues to be an inspiration to aspiring surgeons and a source of pride for USU and the Military Health System."