Newswise — A pediatric cardiologist - - not necessarily the kind of doctor you think would be stationed with a battalion of Marines in one of the most volatile areas of Iraq. But for nearly a year in 2003-2004 that is exactly where Joel Hardin, M.D., pediatric cardiologist, found himself. Embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines he brought medical care to soldiers as well as Iraqis.
Now, a United States military veteran and director of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine’s Pediatric Cardiology Division, Hardin looks back at his military service seeing how it helped shape him to become the physician and person he is today.
“I am a more patient and flexible person after being in the military. You are in an environment filled with anxiety and limited resources. Plans that worked in one place completely fail in another and you have to accept it. Jokingly we say the Marine’s motto is not just Semper Fi, always faithful, but frequently Semper Gumby, always flexible,” said Hardin. “Even here at Loyola we face difficult situations and what we do can get stressful, but those lessons I learned help me put things in perspective. I don’t get so worked up about the small things any more.”
Hardin became a naval reserve officer in 1996 inspired by many of his physician role models and mentors who also had served.
“There was something different about them,” said Hardin. “When times would get stressful for others they remained calm. They had the kind of leadership you could admire and I wondered, ‘how did they get like that?’ and ‘I want to gain experience like that, too.’”
Trained as a pediatrician Hardin thought he’d be working with military families, but soon learned that would not be the case.
“When you first start your medical training it’s very broad-based and you learn about a lot of different areas. As you go along, that training gets more specialized, more focused. When I learned I would be caring for the soldiers themselves I rapidly got unfocused,” said Hardin. “My role as a military medical officer was completely different than what I do now, but that is common in military life.”
Still, he was able to utilize his pediatric training while stationed in Iraq. After discovering and helping to treat a 10-year-old girl with a hole in her heart, word got out and soon Iraqi families brought their children to him for care. After returning stateside Hardin was part of a team that arranged for an Iraqi infant with congenital heart problems to be transported to the U.S. where she received the surgery and medical attention she needed. The girl is now thriving at home in Iraq.
“I think people are motivated to join the military because they are good at what they do and want to be of help to others. It’s not that they were born to live a life of sacrifice -- it’s simply that they are good at their job, actually enjoy it, and feel if they didn’t do it they would be cheating themselves and others.” His passion for service continues. Hardin has been a part of medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic and even went back to Kuwait City to give a lecture on pediatric cardiology care to Arabic-speaking cardiologists. He is open to returning to Iraq should a meaningful opportunity arise.
“I still keep in touch with a lot of the people in my battalion. When I look back the memories are bittersweet and always at the forefront of my mind,” said Hardin. “I also apply the lessons I learned in my everyday life. I’m more confident, empathetic and patient than I ever would’ve been without my military experience. These are more than memories -- they are an everpresent and concrete reminder of what I’ve experienced.”