Given the unique nature of emergency medicine, you don’t always get to speak with patients in advance. What do you wish that more patients knew about emergency physicians?
I want patients to understand that we have a wide scope of practice; we take care of the very old and the very young. We know how to care for pregnant patients and kids of all ages. We are trained to do very technical procedures such as intubations and central lines, but we are also skilled at talking to patients about mental health issues.
We are the “jack of all trades” type of doctor and are familiar with every specialty.
Your day is filled with more “ups” and “downs” than most other professions. Could you tell us about a memorable moment in your career?
I once delivered a baby in the hallway of the emergency room. The mom was trying to make her way to the labor and delivery floor. She was crowning by the time she got to the hospital and went into labor right there on the hospital hallway floor. We delivered a healthy baby!
It was exhilarating but scary—all ended well. Mom and baby are happy and healthy.
Being an emergency physician is an unbelievably demanding job. What motivates you to keep doing the work you do?
There have been different motivators at different points in my career. Being unconditionally present for my patients is the thing that keeps me going.
What unique skills, talent or experience has made you a better doctor?
I am currently doing a fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine in La Jolla, CA. This fellowship has reinforced the softer skills of what it takes to be a great doctor—it takes more than technical skills and knowledge to properly heal a patient.
Emergency physicians are famously unshakeable, you’ve pretty much seen it all. Can you talk about something that recently happened in the emergency department that surprised you?
I recently had a patient who had an anaphylactic reaction to an unexpected medication. No one, not even the patient or his family, knew he had the allergy. He almost died and I had to intubate him in order to save his life.
His face was so swollen that I was afraid I would have to do a surgical airway. I was able to get the tube into his lungs and he survived. They took the tube out the next day and he was joking with me, but I am not sure he really knew how close he was to death. Dealing with those surprises are part of the essence of what emergency physicians do every day.