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School of Medicine discoveries

August 10, 2018

Surgeon and inventor: Class of 2012’s Max Sirkin brings military medicine closer to home

Max Sirkin, M’12, and Col. Jason Hiles have invented the SHRAIL, a new system that helps improve care for soldiers injured in the field.

Max Sirkin, M’12, and Col. Jason Hiles have invented the SHRAIL, a new system that helps improve care for soldiers injured in the field.

There are many qualities that make a good surgeon. According to surgeons themselves, one of those qualities is an innate desire to understand how something works and find ways to make it work better.

Surgeons, of course, apply that talent to the human body. But there are a few who seek additional outlets for that inner drive. That was the case for Max Sirkin, M’12, who has found a second calling as an inventor.

“Doing surgery is a dream job, but I had always wanted to do more,” Sirkin says. “I wanted to be an inventor, but all my ideas had been taken and research wasn’t for me.”

As he worked his way up to the rank of major in the U.S. Army, Sirkin began to speak with physicians and surgeons who had served overseas, sometimes in far-flung parts of the world. In those areas, taking care of soldiers can present challenges, they said. Sometimes, those challenges can be life-threatening.

Sirkin, who is also now an attending general surgeon at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, learned that the mobile medical equipment doctors rely on in more austere areas of operation can be very difficult to assemble and move. Sometimes, certain pieces of equipment are not compatible with other equipment or materials. When minutes and seconds count, equipment that is easy to use can make all the difference.

Therein lay Sirkin’s big idea.

Max Sirkin, M’12 (left) and Col. Jason Hiles demonstrate the SHRAIL.

Max Sirkin, M’12 (left) and Col. Jason Hiles demonstrate the SHRAIL.

“I had never deployed, but doctors who had saw a real problem,” Sirkin says. “There was a problem when surgeons were setting up in remote geographies, and it was a problem I thought I could fix.”

Sirkin and his inventing partner, Col. Jason Hiles, developed the SHRAIL (short for the Sirkin-Hiles Rail System), a system that affixes to a standard stretcher – or litter in Army parlance. A variety of devices, monitors and products can be easily attached to and removed from the rails, so that they are accessible even while the patient is on the move.

“We thought why don’t we start with the rails on the side of every OR table, which are all created with set dimensions?” Sirkin recalls. “We found a way to make a rail that attached to the litter and can snap into place. We designed it so an 18-year-old in a stressful situation could put it together.”

The design, which Sirkin and Hiles first conceived in 2014, allows for far more freedom and mobility than previous options.

“Other options are big and expensive and you have to use specific devices that match a specific system,” Sirkin says. “It can take people who really know what they are doing to set it up, and even then the patient often still needs to get from the point of injury to the mobile medical station.”

One of Sirkin’s mentors, who saw the SHRAIL when it was still its “back of the napkin” stage, says Sirkin has long had a drive to invent.

A soldier tests the SHRAIL in near Fort Bliss, Texas.

A soldier tests the SHRAIL in near Fort Bliss, Texas.

“He has always struck me as someone dedicated to surgery,” says Col. David Cox, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon and deputy corps chief for the Army Medical Corps. “This was the result of his curiosity. One thing surgeons like to do is fix problems. With the SHRAIL, Max saw a problem that needed solving, and he solved it.”

The SHRAIL was featured in May at the Smithsonian Institution’s Military Invention Day. More importantly, it has been deployed to an undisclosed location, where it was successfully used.

Sirkin said the SHRAIL could serve other purposes that are not necessarily military in nature, such as search-and-rescue or disaster relief operations.

“Everyone who has been in an austere environment and had to do a medical intervention understands,” Sirkin says. “You can set up an operating room with what you can carry in your backpack. That puts the doctor and the soldier one step closer to being back at home, where doctors have everything they need to help a patient, and that means more lives saved. The goal is to get people closer to home.”

By Scott Harris

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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Updated: 04/29/2016