Why I will be an Emergency Medicine Physician
By Joey Leary – LECOM- Bradenton Class of 2014
Living in rural Haiti before medical school was my introduction to the field of emergency medicine. Having studied the religion, politics, and culture of the country as an undergraduate anthropology student, my move to the city of Leogane, Haiti in order to volunteer for the University of Notre Dame’s public health initiative to eradicate lymphatic filariasis had context. Further, Dr. Paul Farmer MD, acclaimed anthropologist and physician, had uprooted to this same region years ago. I intended to use my gap-year in a meaningful way which might later give me strength and perspective during my anticipated life as a physician. Today, four years later, it is with this attitude that I reflect upon the 2010 earthquake, and am thankful for my role in one of the most extraordinary tragedies of the century. In the absence of a functioning hospital or any doctors, I was looked to as a physician. The frustration and impotence I felt that day as a first responder has guided me toward a career in emergency medicine.
When the sun came up on Jan 13th, twelve hours after the first earthquake which immediately killed one hundred thousand and would be responsible for the deaths of one hundred and fifty thousand more, I considered how to be most useful. I was exhausted after a sleepless night of walking and hitchhiking the twenty miles from Port au Prince to Leogane, the city which turned out to be closest to the quake’s epicenter. Once back, searching through a partially collapsed Hospital St. Croix looking for friends and trying to call home occupied my time, not sleep. With the destruction of the town’s only hospital, locals began laying the wounded and dead in a field in front of a nursing school, hoping for any sort of expertise. I decided that distributing water and ibuprofen from my first aid kit to a field filled with compound fractures, head injuries, deep lacerations, and amputations, to name a few of the horrific injuries, was the most practical and useful thing for me. When I met an American nurse practitioner, Michelle Sare – founder of Nurses for Nurses International, and was asked to amputate a finger and start splinting arms and legs, my perception amongst the wounded changed. Family members begged me frantically to do something as their loved ones slowly died from internal bleeding, respiratory failure, and renal failure. That day was remarkable in every sense of the word.
Two months of rotations in Memorial Hospital’s level one trauma center in South Bend, Indiana as a third year medical student confirmed my suspicion that emergency care is for me. I couldn’t help but marvel whenever I would see a patient with an injury similar to one I saw in Haiti. The pride that I take in knowing how to treat these acute injuries when confronted a second time is immense. I feel like a wizard when I am able to relieve pain with several well calculated thrusts, a splint, or some well-placed lidocaine. I hope to have more of these skills at my disposal so there will not be a crisis that I am unqualified to respond to.
The most valuable opportunities that have come my way; a chance to volunteer in Haiti, a chance to study dengue fever in the amazon, a chance to work as a camp counselor in Colorado, have always been a result of my enthusiasm and hard work. These qualities, in addition to my unique motivation born out of natural disaster, give me reason to believe that I would make a great emergency physician. Regardless of the matching service’s determination, the moment I step off the plane in Port au Prince this June after graduation, I will be an emergency medicine doctor.