Vanderbilt University Medical Center

News and information for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center community

Toggle navigation
Employee Spotlight

Trauma chief Rick Miller represents Team USA in world triathlon event in Netherlands

"My goal was to stay in good shape as I got older."

by December 20, 2017

Rick Miller has participated in more than 100 triathlons, but representing Team USA in the World Sprint Triathlon Grand Final in Rotterdam was special.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center Trauma Chief Rick Miller, MD, checked a major item off his bucket list recently when he crossed the finish line in the World Sprint Triathlon Grand Final.

Representing the USA team, Miller recently placed 10th in his age category and was the second-fastest American on the team in the world championship event, held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

More than 6,000 triathletes worldwide competed in the event including people of all ages, elite athletes and parathletes. Miller, age 59 at the time of the race, was one of 10 triathletes representing the United States in the 60-64 age group, which he qualified for because his 60th birthday, Dec. 30, 2017, fell just two days before the cutoff for this age bracket.

“In what we do, we see someone die every day. I think being active and training for events has really helped me transition away from my hospital life to being a regular dad and husband when I go home. It makes me feel good physically and mentally. It helps me sleep well and it helps me balance my life.”

Miller participated in numerous qualifying events and ultimately in the USA Triathlon National Championships, which earned him a berth in the World Triathlon Grand Final events for both the aquabike and sprint events. He finished 6th in his age group in the aquabike event in Penticton, British Columbia, in August with his wife Karen and daughters Alyssa and Stephanie cheering him across the finish line of the 1.5-mile swim and 75-mile bike event. He and Karen then traveled to Rotterdam in September and some family friends for the sprint competition, which consists of a 750-meter swim, a 20- kilometer bike ride and a 5-kilometer run.

Miller in a more familiar environment to his co-workers. Photo by Susan Urmy.

“When you’re younger, the competition is fierce, but as you get older, people start dropping out of these competitions,” said Miller, chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Emergency General Surgery and professor of Surgery. “My goal was to stay in good shape as I got older and make the U.S. team, so making the team was a major bucket list item for me.”

Miller has made a lifelong commitment to fitness because he believes you can take better care of others if you take care of yourself.

This philosophy, combined with what he describes as a highly competitive drive, has guided him through his more than 30-year medical career and taken him around the world to compete in marathons and triathlons.

“I wouldn’t be as good a Trauma chief if I didn’t do things like this that I enjoy. It’s my oasis or sanctuary to ease my brain, reduce my stress and help with mindfulness,” Miller said. “In what we do, we see someone die every day. I think being active and training for events has really helped me transition away from my hospital life to being a regular dad and husband when I go home. It makes me feel good physically and mentally. It helps me sleep well and it helps me balance my life.”

Miller was born and raised in Montreal and demonstrated talent in swimming from an early age. He competed on the Canadian national swim team and was an alternate for the 1976 Olympics, missing a spot on the Canadian Olympic swim team by only one-tenth of a second.

He received a full swimming scholarship to the University of South Florida, but burnout eventually took hold, causing him to step away from his swimming career.

“My goal was to stay in good shape as I got older and make the U.S. team, so making the team was a major bucket list item for me.”

He picked up a job at the nearby Veterans Affairs hospital, which is what sparked his desire to work in medicine.

He started running to stay in shape and competed in dozens of marathons through his medical school, residency and fellowship years.

After his fellowship, which he completed at VUMC, he took a position at a Level 1 Community Trauma Center at the Greenville Hospital System in Greenville, South Carolina.

His daughter, Alyssa, then in second grade, learned that her teacher competed in triathlons and bragged to her teacher that her daddy was a good runner and swimmer. Alyssa’s teacher invited Miller to start training with him, and it was then that his passion for triathlons ignited.

Miller has since competed in more than 100 triathlons, and has participated in events with former trauma patients.

Miller sometimes participates in competitions with former trauma patients such as school teacher Stephanie Styles, who recovered from a gunshot under his care.

While still in Greenville, he cared for triathlete Stephanie Styles, a school teacher who accidentally shot herself with a .38 caliber revolver she kept in her nightstand for protection when she thought she heard an intruder in her home.. The bullet passed through her abdomen with devastating results. She required a dozen operations and overcame multiple complications but was ultimately able to return to teaching school and competing in triathlons. Miller participated in two triathlon events with Styles and still keeps in touch with her.

Years later, Miller cared for attorney Guy Dotson, who was brought to VUMC after accidentally shooting himself while cleaning a Glock pistol in his Murfreesboro, Tennessee, home. Not realizing there was a bullet in the chamber, the pistol discharged as he was cleaning it. The bullet entered his lower right abdomen and exited through his back, just missing his spinal column. At the time of the accidental shooting, Dotson had been training for a triathlon, which he credits in part for his ability to physically recover. As his prognosis improved, Miller told him he would join him when he was able to compete again, and nine months after the accident, the two participated in a triathlon together.

“If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better off, your patients will be better off, and your family will be better off. If you allow people to balance their life and do things they love to do, they’ll work harder for you and be better providers to our patients.”

“If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re never going to be able to do what we do,” Miller said. “As chief, I try to set that example for the Trauma team and encourage people to do things they love outside of work. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better off, your patients will be better off, and your family will be better off. If you allow people to balance their life and do things they love to do, they’ll work harder for you and be better providers to our patients.”

This philosophy embodies the work being done by the VUMC Task Force for Empowerment and Well-being, a 16-member multidisciplinary group of which Miller is a member that was formed earlier this year to develop a deeper understanding of the nationwide problem of physician burnout and suggest solutions at VUMC.

Miller has already qualified for the 2018 World Sprint Triathlon Grand Final in Australia and will spend the next few months preparing for that event alongside his Australian Shepherd-Labrador mix, Sadie, who he says loves to run as much as he does.

Rick Miller, Trauma