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Who’s Who: Dr. Jeff Colyer

By Mike Shields | March 07, 2011

BIO: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer was born June 3, 1960, and raised in Hays where his father was a dentist.

He attended Thomas More Prep, a Catholic high school in Hays, graduating in 1978.

What he learned at his high school, he said, was the biggest influence on his later careers in medicine and politics and sparked his extensive work as a volunteer in strife-torn countries around the world.

"The whole point of that school was serving your community," Colyer said. "I had a whole bunch of good teachers that I could talk about for hours. I think we're here to serve people and make a difference. That's why I ended up in medicine. I also felt that on the policy side of things, in the bigger, social, economic, political world, I could also help people."

After high school, he earned a bachelor's degree in economics and did his pre-medical studies at Georgetown University, a Jesuit college in Washington, D.C., where he graduated in 1981.

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He earned a master's degree in international studies at Cambridge University in Cambridge, England, in 1982. While there he made connections that landed him work as a researcher and defense analyst at the International Institute of Defense Studies in London where he did occasional work while studying medicine through 1988. His work at the institute focused on the U.S. and Soviet defense budgets.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer

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He attended medical school at the University of Kansas and graduated in 1986. His medical specialty is plastic surgery.

In 1988 and 1989, Colyer served as a White House fellow, one of 14 young professionals chosen from among 825 applicants to intern at the Reagan White House.

He said it was during his time at the White House, where he worked mostly on trade issues related to the Soviet grain market, that he met Sam Brownback who was then Kansas' secretary of agriculture. Two years later, Brownback became a White House fellow. Both men were in Washington then and they stayed in touch and maintained their friendship over the years.

By the time he became a White House fellow, Colyer had already worked as a volunteer with the International Medical Corps, designing surgical medic training programs and setting up surgical clinics for the Afghan freedom fighters during their war with the Soviet Union.

Colyer said he was the first doctor to volunteer for the IMC, which was founded by Dr. Robert Simon, then a California emergency-room doctor, in direct response to the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan.

"I was their first volunteer," he said. "I was still in medical school. About a dozen Lions Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs around the KC area each got together and gave me $100 so I'd be able to buy a one-way ticket to Peshawar, Pakistan. I knew I had to come back, but I thought, "We'll figure out how, later."

Colyer was 25.

"We were training Afghan medics on the Pakistan side of the border," he said. "It was kind of the first, really big training program over there. We literally were writing the curriculum while we were there."

Colyer stayed involved with the International Medical Corps through the years and later volunteered his services in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Kosovo and other places.

"Jeff Colyer has been going back and forth with us for many years," said Simon, who now has a medical consultancy in Wisconsin and continues on the IMC board of directors.

When Colyer worked in war-ravaged Sierra Leone, Simon said, it was removing the branding scars from the skin of former child soldiers so they could return to their home villages without being killed in retribution for what they had done during the fighting. During the country's 10-year civil war, thousands of children and teenagers were drafted into the rebel army and branded with the letters RUF, initials of the Revolutionary United Front.

Removing the brands or identifying scars from the children allowed them to resume their lives. Colyer removed the scars and trained others to continue that work after he left. Colyer and the IMC efforts in Sierra Leone were featured on the television news show "60 Minutes." Those segments are still viewable on YouTube.

"The reason I like working with IMC," Colyer said, "it's not just that you go and do surgery, you're really working with the local people. IMC has been in Afghanistan since 1985 continuously through thick and thin, working with the local people, training the local people. You empower the local people to take care of these problems. In all these areas where IMC works there's lots of training going on, and so I really like that model of empowering people to deal with their situations."

His experience with IMC often put him in dangerous places.

"In Rwanda," he said, "I was the only surgeon in southern Rwanda during the genocide. We'd set up really the first clinic and hospital there in the southern part of the country."

In 1994, Colyer opened his plastic surgery practice in Overland Park, Plastic Surgical Arts, where he still sees patients between his duties as lieutenant governor.

He and his wife, Ruth, have three daughters: Alexandra, 15; Serena,13; and Dominique, 11.

In 2002, Colyer made his first bid for elected office, running in the Republican primary seeking the 3rd District Congressional seat held by incumbent Dennis Moore, a Democrat. But he was defeated by Adam Taff. Taff subsequently lost to Moore. Taff tried again to unseat Moore in 2004 and in 2005 pleaded guilty to wire fraud and violating federal campaign finance laws.

In 2006, Colyer ran for a seat in the Kansas House and won. His campaign spent $100,200 of which $75,000 came from his own pocket, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. As a freshman, he was made chairman of the House GOP Health Reform Task Force.

While in the House, he introduced a bill that would have required Medicaid beneficiaries who smoked, were obese or abused drugs to enroll in wellness programs. Those that showed no progress in two years would have faced substantially reduced benefits.

In 2008, he ran for the Kansas Senate and won. His campaign spent about $83,000 of which $50,000 was self-financed.

In 2010, he ran on the Brownback ticket as lieutenant governor. The pair was elected by a wide majority, defeating Democrats Tom Holland and Kelly Kultala.

The governor has tapped Colyer to head his administration's Medicaid makeover team with instructions to cut $200 million or more from the program's spending in time for fiscal 2013.

INTERCONNECTS: According to Colyer's lengthy resume, he has or does belong to a dozen professional associations. He is a national fellow in New York's Explorers Club, which was founded in 1904 to promote scientific field research. His extensive volunteer work has included a stint as the official plastic surgeon for the former Kansas City Brigade arena football team and its cheerleaders.


Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer
Kansas Statehouse
300 SW 10th Ave., Room 252-S
Topeka, Kan. 66612-1519
(785) 296-2213