18 Jun 2012, Posted by admin in Uncategorized, No Comments. Tagged Cincinnati, emergency medicine, ER doctor, historian, journalism, multimedia, New Media Bureau, Studs Terkel, University of Cincinnati, Working
Erin McDonough, 34, is an assistant professor of emergency medicine and assistant director of the Emergency Medicine Residency program at the University of Cincinnati. She is also a member of the Stroke Team, Air Care, and she’s an emergency room doctor. She’s been a physician since 2004.
When people first meet me, they think that I’m going to be a push over, or a little girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing. I’m confident in what I do, and that confidence, I think, comes across when I have the chance to demonstrate it.
Some people have the personality for the job, and others don’t. The emergency department is a pretty high-stress environment. It’s not an easy place to work. It wears on you if you don’t have your outlets. Humor is definitely our outlet.
It’s a sacrifice. My life is a lot more complicated and challenging than it would be had I picked a different career, but it just feels worth it.
There are a lot of tough aspects to my job. The problem is, though, I get the benefit of all the good stuff, and I can’t get the benefits of all the good stuff without the bad stuff.
I mean, would I love better hours and being off on weekends and holidays and having like, the kind of regular hours that everybody else has? Hell yeah, I’d love that. Like, being able to rely every year that I’m going to be at Thanksgiving dinner with my family, be at Christmas dinner with my family, be off on my birthday, that kind of stuff? Never having that kind of predictability with your schedule is tough. There are times when I wish that was better.
I’ve recently gotten better at being able to maintain my social life. It’s so easy for this kind of a job to just take over your whole life. I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to balance it out. I’m much better at having social plans, spending time with friends, doing that sort of thing; going out to dinner, drinking some wine. Watching sports, watching TV, working out – my decompression activities.
When I was in college I kind of just fell into medicine. I still don’t ever remember making a conscious decision to do it. I thought I was going to be a scientist. I went to college and was a biochemistry major and thought that that was really cool. And I started down that path and kept going and ended up in medical school.
I like the excitement, I like the variety, I like how everyday is completely different.
I have kind of mixed memories of my first month in the emergency department as an intern. I remember just feeling like an idiot and being very concerned about pleasing my fourth-year residents.
I was very afraid of messing up. I’m still afraid of messing up, but much less afraid than I was as an intern.
Part of the training, I think, is that when things are happening, you don’t think. You just act, and your training kicks in. So while something’s going on, I never really think, ‘Oh my God, I could totally harm this person.’ You just kind of do what needs to be done.
On my non-clinical days I have a lot of administrative work to do. I could spend every non-clinical day I have in the office doing work, but obviously you’ve got to take some time for yourself every now and then.
I’m still technically active on Air Care. Most of the faculty don’t fly. I’ll still fly a shift every now and then, mostly to just help out if it’s tight staffing for the residents, help them decrease their load a little bit.
One of the things that I thrive on is teaching the residents. So when I walk in in the morning, I want it to be a busy day, I want to see some interesting cases, and I want to be able to teach the residents a lot. That’s probably what gives me the most satisfaction in what I do.
At the same time I take a lot of pride in that we are kind of a safety net for everybody, and that anybody can come in and get any of their questions answered, no matter how inane or ridiculous their questions may be.
The first time I saw a woman deliver a baby, I cried. The first time I had to tell a family that their loved one came in with a cardiac arrest and had died, I cried. Probably the things that make me nervous now are, like, sick neonates (newborn infants). That will get my heart rate up a little bit. Eh, not really.
I think some of the things that shock me are things that people do to themselves, from a mutilation standpoint and that sort of thing. But other than that, I mean, I’ve seen pretty gruesome traumas. That stuff, while I might think, ‘Wow, that’s pretty impressive,’ it doesn’t necessarily shock me anymore.
It’s a matter of whether that emotional attachment develops. Some of that is based on the amount of time I spend with a patient. I have a tendency to develop an emotional attachment to patients that I treat on the stroke team because I just end up spending so much time talking to them. Part of our job is to follow up with them a day later, and I’ll be ridiculously happy if they’re doing a ton better because of what I did for them.
I have a temper, and emergency medicine has taught me to control that because people are so sensitive to the way that you react to them, so it’s been a struggle.
I’m a big believer that the environment at work comes from the top. The person at the top is the person that sets the attitude. I tell this to my residents, too.
I think that my job significantly affects who I am as a person. I interact with all types of people from all types of racial and socio-economic backgrounds, and so I think that has made me less judgmental.
Based on what I see in the emergency department, I would say that I definitely have an appreciation for how incredibly random life is and how a non-eventful day is a day to be thankful for.
One last thing: I constantly refer to emergency medicine as a ‘job,’ and that probably doesn’t do it justice. It is so much more than a job. In a cheesy sort of way, it is a calling. It is both an obligation and a life in itself. Not really a career, but maybe a life path? Again, hard to explain.
– Interview by Jocelyn Short, photos by Deanna Rowe