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Meet A Doctor

Dr. Gerard Martin is a doctor in the emergency department at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He has been a physician for over twenty years. In addition to being the senior staff doctor in the ER, he also supervises a staff of ER residents, nurses, and support professionals.

How He Got His Start

Dr. Martin says that his dad was the one who encouraged him to think about becoming a doctor.

My dad was a practical guy. He knew how much I liked science and math, and that I was good in those subjects. He suggested that I explore a premed program in college, and see how I liked it. Actually, I was a little scared of the idea. I knew that doctors had to talk to patients all the time—to touch them, to interact with them. I was pretty shy and didn’t know if I was the “doctor type.” I just wasn’t sure if it was the right career for me.[8]

His dad had a friend who was a pathologist, so Dr. Martin spent some time with him to see what his job was like. That is when he began to develop an interest in medicine, especially in pathology. “Pathologists don’t have to spend much time with patients because most of their time is spent in the laboratory. I figured, this way I could have a job that used math and science, but being shy wouldn’t matter.”

Dr. Martin finished a premed program in college and enrolled in St. Louis University Medical School. For the first two years, he studied all the typical medical school subjects. When he got into his third year, he began to think about other specialties besides pathology. “I wasn’t that serious about pathology anyway, and as soon as I started having contact with patients, I found out how much I liked that part of it. I knew that whatever I chose, I wanted to deal closely with patients. However, the choices were immense. It’s very common for medical students to feel torn when they start going through their rotations. I wanted to specialize in everything.”

Of special interest to Dr. Martin was the field of pediatric heart surgery. During his rotations, he had the chance to work with a pediatric heart surgeon and was fascinated with the doctor’s work.

I spent a lot of time with him and I thought he was so great—I wanted to be just like him. To be able to help little kids who are born with heart defects seemed so incredible to me. What changed my mind was the hours this guy worked. I got there early in the morning, and he was always there before me. I left late at night, and he was always there after me. Those types of specialists work so many hours, it seems like they work all the time. I decided that I needed to choose something that allowed me a little more control over my life.

Life in the ER

Emergency medicine first caught Dr. Martin’s interest because it was so fast paced. Also, the field of emergency medicine had just become an official specialty about the time he graduated from medical school. “In years past, emergency medicine was not a specialty at all. In fact, the ER was viewed as not a very good place to work. Doctors would get stuck in there because they happened to be available. That changed during the 1970s, when emergency medi­cine started to be more recognized. I talked to people in the field, and decided it might be the right choice for me.” After he graduated from medical school, Dr. Martin went to work at Henry Ford Hospital. He has been there ever since.

Dr. Martin says that real-life emergency rooms are not exactly like those shown on television, although there are similarities. In a real ER things are very fast paced, so doctors and nurses do not have time to stand around and chat the way they do on television. Also, television shows tend to feature only the most dramatic injuries and illnesses. “We do get our share of those cases in the ER. We see shooting victims and people who have suffered heart attacks or overdosed on drugs. But we also get plenty of sprained ankles, bellyaches, slivers in fingers, and tons of other stuff that wouldn’t be exciting enough to show on TV.”

The Henry Ford ER staff works three shifts a day, so the ER is covered twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Dr. Martin has been there for a long time, but he works his share of afternoons and nights just like everyone else. He says that it is a very, very busy place. “Sometimes we see nearly three hundred patients in a day, so it can get hectic. We all work hard.”

Best Things About the Job

Dr. Martin loves the fact that in the ER, everyone expects the unexpected.

We never know who will come in the door or what will be wrong with them. And we see it all—heart attacks, gunshot wounds, sore throats, splinters in fingers, seizures, car accident victims—everything from the most minor thing to the worst thing you could imagine. Often, we are able to help these people and save their lives.

One particular case involved a young man who had been at a party with his buddies. A fight broke out and he was stabbed in the chest, which resulted in a stab wound to his heart. When he was brought into the ER, he was gasping for breath. Blood had accumulated around his heart and that was preventing it from beating properly. We opened his chest, removed the blood from around his heart, and got his heartbeat back under control. His chances for survival hadn’t been very good, yet he fully recovered and was able to go back to college. Our team saved his life, and I can’t even begin to describe what that feels like.

Dr. Martin says he also enjoys the teaching part of his job. “I find it very satisfying to play a part in our residents’ development, to help them learn. I have the opportunity to help them make the transition from knowing nothing to being good doctors.”

The Bad Times

As with any job, life in the ER is not always pleasant. The fast pace can be exciting, but it can also be exhausting. Plus, there are tragedies.

We see some really bad situations. Cases where babies have been shaken and they’re brain damaged. Victims of car accidents or stab wounds. Child abuse. People who have been beaten. The hardest times, of course, are when people die. One of our saddest cases involved an older gentleman named “Albert.” He had been in the ER countless times because he was quite a drinker, and he would end up getting hurt. He came in so much that he kind of got on our nerves, because sometimes he could be obnoxious. Then one day an ambulance arrived with a man who had been hit by a car and was badly hurt. He died shortly after he got there, and after he died, we realized it was Albert. We couldn’t believe it. After years of taking care of this guy—even though we’d been irritated at him sometimes—his death hit us all really hard. We were pretty broken up for a while because of that.

Message to Kids

Dr. Martin believes that being a doctor is a great career for the right person. He says that because of all the different fields and specialties, there is something for almost everyone. “If you want lots of patient contact, go to work in the ER or family practice. If you don’t want contact with patients, be a pathologist. If you love kids, be a pediatrician. No matter what area you choose, you can make some kind of positive difference.” He cautions, however, that aspiring doctors must look at a medical career realistically. “It takes a long time and a lot of work to become a doctor. Plus, once you do, the hours are long and the work isn’t easy. But I believe it’s well worth it. Being a doctor is both rewarding and challenging. My job is to help people in their time of need. I can’t think of anything better than that.”

8 All quotes in “Meet A Doctor”: Dr. Gerard Martin, interview with author, September 13, 2002.

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