MOBILE, Ala. - Surrounded by the sound of quiet, and nothing but the icy blue sky overhead and a near-blinding white glacier as far as the eye can see, Coast Guard Capt. Ken “Doc” Harman sat at the edge of the of a boulder bundled in a winter coat in mid-August delivering his acceptance speech in front of an audience of one.
Fast forward a few days to a darkened room filled with chatter and a sea of white coats, as students from the University of Alabama, in Birmingham, Ala., back in their comfortable chairs in an air-conditioned auditorium watch on a big screen as Harman humbly accepts the Martha Myers Role Model Award.
With Harman deployed to Greenland on a Coast Guard mission, he was unable to accept the award in person. The award, named for Martha Myers, a UAB graduate, known for her patient care and compassion at a hospital where she served as a medical missionary in Yemen, recognizes the accomplishments of physician alumni whose lives epitomize the ideal of service to their communities.
Rising to the challenge, Harman worked his way up the ladder in the medical field from a small town in Alabama to becoming the chief flight surgeon at Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala.
When it came time to decide what he wanted to do with his life, Harman thought about the careers of the people in his hometown of Fairhope, Ala. As he reflected, one person stood out to him, his general practitioner (GP). Harman appreciated the knowledge and admired the genuine care that his small-town doctor provided to his patients.
“I imagined myself being in a small town practicing medicine and I looked up to our town’s GP,” said Harman.
It was with this patient care ethic that Harman formed the foundation for his success that began in 1975 when he opened up his mailbox in the student housing at the University of South Alabama. Inside it contained his acceptance letter to the University of Alabama (UAB).
Upon receiving a Navy Health Professions Scholarship, Harman chose UAB because of its outstanding reputation in the medical field.
“I began to truly appreciate the quality of my UAB education during my internship. While I was constantly challenged and worked hard, I soon discovered that I had already been given the tools I needed for success,” Harman said.
After his internship, he joined the Navy where he served for eight years.
“I left the Navy in 1988 and joined the faculty at UAB. My time there was a rewarding experience that allowed me to give back some of the bounty I had been given as a student,” Harman said.
Harman went on to open his own private practice in Alabama - an achievement that at an early age he would chuckle at the thought of. Just like his GP, he found himself caring for members in his small town. He held his practice for 11 years, which also allowed him to continue teaching medicine at UAB.
“It was a hard decision but I wanted to experience the challenges and satisfaction of running my own office,” Harman said.
This experience of having his own practice and teaching set him up for success when he accepted a position as a flight surgeon with the Coast Guard in 2002.
Harman’s tour in the Coast Guard has sent him all over the world where he has responded to some of the most catastrophic natural disasters.
In 2004, Harman deployed aboard the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Mercy as the officer in charge of the ashore triage team that responded to the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. In 2005, Harman responded to one of the most devastating hurricanes in history, Katrina. As a member of the Coast Guard’s response team, he assisted with operations in the aerial evacuation of survivors trapped in their flooded homes.
Harman recently returned from his second trip to Greenland, where he served as the medical team leader. He oversaw the safety of 17 expedition members deployed to the glacier in search of two U.S. Coast Guard and one U.S. Army Air Forces crew members who were aboard a Coast Guard World War II aircraft that crashed on the glacier while trying to rescue another aircrew.
During his time on the ice, Harman put care into everything he did from tending to his solar snow melter, the camp’s unlimited water source, to stitching tents and treating minor injuries.
He ensured members began their day on the right foot. Every morning “Doc” arose from his well-structured campground and entered the kitchen dome tent greeting the team with a cheery “Good morning campers!” causing even the grumpiest of people to smirk.
Following his trip to Greenland, Harman returned to the states in preparation to teach a flight surgeon course. Harman’s knowledge and experience has led him to mentor the next group of Coast Guard flight surgeons instilling in them the significance of patient care.
“In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined a better life than the one I have lived. I have eagerly looked forward to every day I spend practicing medicine and rest my head at night with a profound sense of personal and professional satisfaction. In great measure, I owe it to the lessons I learned at UAB,” Harman said.