Richard Price, MD ’60
Sep 25, 2019 12:00 AM
The 2019 Distinguished Alumni AwardRichard Price, MD ’60 FACS
For his exceptional leadership as a surgeon, medical director, and teacher.
In 1972, barely one month after returning from his tour of service in the Air Force, Richard Price received a call that would change health care in the Mountain West. The voice on the other end said there was a teenage gunshot victim in the hospital and asked Price to come in. Although Price wasn’t on call that night, he rushed to his car and saved the teenager’s life.
The experience left him dismayed. While in the Air Force, Price had done tours in Europe and throughout the US and was involved in the care of hundreds of casualties returning from the Vietnam War.
So when Price arrived at LDS hospital to care for his gunshot patient, he was surprised to learn the hospital was ill prepared.
Price soon realized that the deficiencies extended well beyond the hospital. In his estimation, the entire state of Utah did not have adequate services to deal with a large-scale trauma. Among other issues, he saw no medically trained first responders, no surgeons trained in trauma care, and no protocols or organization for trauma care in emergency rooms.
“I thought it was unacceptable,’” Price said. “I went to leadership of the hospital and the medical director at LDS. They all said, ‘Hey, if you think we ought to do something, why don't you go ahead and do it?’”
Price did. Over the course of his four-decade career, he played a key role in the development of trauma and critical care throughout the state. He established new trauma service for Intermountain Healthcare at LDS Hospital and Primary Children’s Medical Center, as well as the IHC Life Flight air-transport program. Price’s leadership resulted in the LDS Hospital trauma service being officially recognized as a Level 1 Trauma Center.
Price realized early in life that he should be involved with medicine. During his childhood, he broke a total of 14 bones; one time, after sporting a cast on a freshly broken wrist, his grammar-school janitor suggested he become a doctor so he could take care of himself.
"Everybody would acknowledge Dick Price is the father of trauma care in Utah"
- Mark Stevens, MD
Director of Trauma, Intermountain Healthcare
“I thought at the time, ‘Well, that sounds interesting,” Price said. “All the doctors I had seen were nice people and they helped people a lot. I never thought about being anything else."
After attending Colorado State University (then Colorado A&M) for three years, Price enrolled in the U of U School of Medicine, where he met Lynn, his wife of more than 61 years. They were married by the time he graduated in 1960 and soon had their first son. While in residency at the university, Price soon realized that his calling was in surgery.
“I went to Dr. Maxwell Wintrobe and asked to change,” Price said. “He said, ‘Look, decide what you really want to do in medicine and do it, and you'll be a better physician.’”
Following his residency, Price went on to a varied career within the Air Force. With the Vietnam War in full swing, he was first stationed in West Germany, assigned to be the Air Force’s consultant for general surgery in Europe. In 1969, he moved to the headquarters of the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base in southwest Illinois, where he was involved in the care of hundreds of casualties returning to the US from Southeast Asia. In 1971, Price was asked to serve as a disaster surgeon in Florida for the Apollo 14 launch.
“If anything happened to the Apollo 14, the astronauts would have been fried,” Price said. “But on the ground, there were almost three-quarters of a million people watching the launch. We needed to be ready in case the rocket fell on them or something.”
Price eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and became the general-surgery consultant for the Air Force in the continental US. He developed significant experience in trauma services, both at the individual level and at large, system-wide scales. But after Price suffered a knee injury during parachute training, he decided to retire from the Air Force, and he and his wife moved back to Utah to raise their five sons. He took a position with the Salt Lake Clinic and practiced at the LDS Hospital and Primary Children’s Hospital.
Given his personal history, when Price operated on the gunshot victim at LDS hospital, he therefore viewed the trauma services through the lens of his years of experience in the Air Force — and found the entire system lacking.
“We talked to the other hospitals in the city. Nobody took care of trauma well at all,” Price said. “I realized that we needed to get organized.”
Price became the architect for a new generation of trauma services within the state.
All the while, Price taught U of U surgical residents, interns, and medical students. He was a leader in providing high-quality, low-cost alternative outpatient surgical care. “I always loved teaching,” he said. “Throughout my career, I have enjoyed teaching other physicians about surgical problems relating to trauma, and triage.”
Price’s dedication to service extended beyond Salt Lake City. He was the Utah representative for the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma for 10 years, served with the Utah State Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, and taught 40 advanced-trauma life-support courses for physicians in the western United States.
In 2002, he was the medical-operation officer for the Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics. Together with J. Charles (Chuck) Rich Jr., MD ’65, the chairman of medical services for the Olympics, Price selected medical and nursing officers and the resources for each clinic.
“We put together a large system that worked really well,” said Price. “We prepared for a number of events, from athlete accidents to Olympic-wide disasters. Fortunately nothing big took place, and we had a great time.”
Price also served as medical director for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for more than 27 years, and was a first tenor for seven years. He downplays the suggestions that he must have been a great singer. “I like to think I was good enough to be in,” he joked.
Price retired from medicine in 2013. He now enjoys time with his wife, five sons, and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Price is the 2019 recipient of the University of Utah School of Medicine Distinguished Alumni Award.
“Everybody would acknowledge Dick Price is the father of trauma care in Utah,” said Dr. Mark Stevens, who succeeded Price as the director of trauma service at Intermountain. “He’s also a very good technical surgeon. He was one of the fastest and one of the best. When other surgeons needed surgery for themselves or their families, they often turned to him. He’s a surgeon’s surgeon.”
by Richard Polikoff
The 2019 School of Medicine Alumni Awards
Harry Hill, MD
Karl A. Sanders, MD
The M. Paul Southwick Prize for Excellence in Clinical Medicine and Teaching