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Physician Feels at Home Caring for Fellow Veterans – 2023 Outstanding Physician of the Year

Eibling Outstanding Physician of the Year
Dr. David Eibling, left, with VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System Deputy Chief of Staff Dr. Brooke Decker and Chief of Staff Dr. Ali Sonel.

For Dr. David Eibling, being named VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s 2023 Outstanding Physician of the Year is the second greatest honor of his 50-year career.

The first?

“To be nominated by my peers is an honor second only to being able to take care of Veterans and active-duty military,” said Eibling, 74, a retired Air Force colonel with 33 years’ service at VA Pittsburgh.

Eibling was selected for the annual honor from a field of 12 VA Pittsburgh physicians who received a monthly Chief of Staff Clinical Excellence Award during fiscal year 2022. Voting was open to all VA Pittsburgh staff physicians.

An otolaryngologist and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, Eibling for the past 30 years has focused on treating Veterans with head and neck cancer. His peers, in selecting him as 2023’s outstanding physician, noted Eibling brings “astute clinical wisdom” and compassion to the bedside.

“I have witnessed time and again his willingness to go the extra mile to get the best care for his patients,” said Dr. John Ludden in nominating Eibling. “His kind, empathetic approach reminds us of the humanity in medicine, and serves as an exemplary role model for everyone he mentors.”

Eibling got his start in medicine while on active duty as a medical student in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He went to medical school on an Air Force scholarship, followed by a residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital, serving at the West Haven VA Medical Center (VAMC) during his rotation.

During his military career, Eibling traveled the world caring for service members as an Air Force physician. He served overseas at an Air Force hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany, with temporary duty assignments seeing patients at air bases in Turkey, Italy and Norway. Stateside, he was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California and twice at Wilford Hall at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas – as a resident in 1973, then as ENT department chief from 1987-90.

Upon retiring from the military in 1990, Eibling joined VA Pittsburgh. His experiences caring for Veterans at the West Haven VAMC, and for service members in the Air Force, influenced his decision to choose VA for his next career.

“I felt at home, comfortable with Veterans, and found that I enjoyed caring for them,” Eibling said. “I think for the most part, they’ve enjoyed having me take care of them. It’s kind of like a long-term friendship that maybe transcends the usual doctor-patient relationship.”

A skilled surgeon, Eibling has chosen to no longer perform elective surgeries, but he continues to see patients. He keeps a full schedule weekly, offering appointments in-person and virtually by phone or VA Video Connect. When not with patients, he teaches and mentors students and residents. It’s his work with his students, he said, that he hopes will define his mark on medicine.

“I am not going to live long enough to make all the changes I want to make,” Eibling said. “The fact is if I am going to have an impact on the world, I am going to impact it through my trainees.”

Eibling said his residents have gone on to serve across the nation as remarkable leaders, researchers, innovators and teachers. He is proud of them, he said, and thankful for the opportunity to have “spent a little bit of time, and maybe had a little influence, on them.”

Eibling’s other passion is patient safety, which has been a long-term focus of his teaching. He serves as chair of VA Pittsburgh’s Second Victim Committee, which provides peer support to any staff member who witnessed, or feels responsible for, an adverse or traumatic work-related event. Providing early support with the grieving process can prevent post-traumatic stress, help employees return to work, and even aid in preventing burnout, Eibling said.

The act of caring for one another, he said, benefits all involved. It helps the person in need and gives a sense of “what I’m doing matters” to the individual who provides the care. It also extends beyond the workplace.

“The single most important thing that matters is taking care of one another,” Eibling said. “And that can be patients, or fellow workers, or family members or friends.”

Outside of work, Eibling is an avid bicyclist. He commuted by bike to work in California and Germany and continues that tradition here in Pittsburgh. He said his 7-mile roundtrip ride from Squirrel Hill to the University Drive campus in Oakland takes him through the city’s “most wonderful bike trails and bike lanes.”

Rain, snow or shine, Eibling pedals a bicycle to work, even outfitting one bike with studded snow tires for winter. The rides, he said jokingly, keep him in shape because he’s “too lazy” to work out in a gym.

Eibling said he has stuck with VA for over three decades because of his fellow Veterans.

“I feel like I’m in the same boat with them, because I’ve been there myself,” he said. “I haven’t experienced the horrible things many of them have, but I’ve been in the same boat.”

He said his co-workers’ passion for caring for Veterans – “from people in the clinic, people in the operating room, people in ancillary services” -- is another major draw to working for VA.

“I’m continually impressed by the dedication of the people I work with to provide the best care to Veterans, and with each other,” Eibling said. “They are all passionate about doing the right thing.”

Editor’s note: Are you a physician or health care worker considering a career change? We are hiring! To browse our openings, visit VA Pittsburgh Jobs and Careers or USAJOBS VAPHS Openings.

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