Docent merges Civil War interest with medical background

By: Shannon Sarino, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Frank Bruno has a long-time interest in the Civil War. It is that interest, he says, combined with his medical background, which brought him to the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) as a volunteer docent in 2011.

"I came right as the new building was just opening," Bruno said. "I joke that it was nice for the Department of Defense (DoD) to build this museum for me, so I had a place to volunteer once I retired."

Bruno, a retired family physician who practiced in Columbia, Md., for more than 40 years, said NMHM meets two of his major interests: his professional interest in medicine, and his personal interest in Civil War history.

"I love tours with people who are interested in the Civil War," he said. "I can offer the history component, but then I can add the medical part, too. People have a lot of questions about what medicine was like during the Civil War."

His dual interests have made him an integral part of the docent program, said Gwen Nelmes, tour program coordinator.

"Frank has been a valuable addition to the volunteer program. The combination of his life experiences in the Vietnam War and working as a physician provide a unique insight to the museum's collections," she said. "Frank's passion for the history of medicine allows him to bring the unique stories in the museum to life and create connection with museum visitors."

Bruno said his favorite exhibit in the museum is "The Collection that Teaches," because it is the intersection of all the Civil War artifacts and the medical advances that came out of the war.

"In medicine, we improve care to civilians after major wars," he said. "After the Civil War, just like the wars that followed, there were dramatic advancements in medicine."

Volunteer docents provide education and interpretive support for NMHM’s programming. Docents support tours, outreach and family programs. Through NMHM’s educational programs, the museum inspires and promotes interest in the understanding of medicine—past, present and future—with a special emphasis on American military medicine. With a vast collection of more than 25 million objects and a diversity of visitors, volunteers at NMHM are provided with a unique and rewarding experience.

Bruno, who also volunteers as a master naturalist at the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia, Md., said he values his time at the museum.

"I served in Vietnam as a doctor, so I know something of the military, too. I like to see people become more interested in the history of our country. I try very hard not to glorify the Civil War, or romanticize it, but instead to delve into what some of the soldiers really went through. My work here has forced me to read more and do research into the care of the wounded and the dead during the Civil War, which is something I might not have done otherwise," he said.


Caption: Frank Bruno, National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) volunteer docent, gives tours and participates in NMHM public programs. A retired physician, he began volunteering at the museum because of his personal interest in the Civil War.