“There is no greater high than saving a life”
Posted on March 30, 2015 by Kerrie Anastassatos
A question-and-answer session with Atria Summit Ridge resident, Dr. Ellen T., a former E.R. surgeon and professor of surgery in the division of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.
1. What inspired you to go into the medical field?
“When I was between the ages of three and a half and five, I just decided I wanted to be a doctor. We had no television in our home and we didn’t watch movies, so I had no outside influences. I just knew! Perhaps it was from a past life.”
2. How long were you an emergency room physician?
“From 1966 to 1998. When I began my career, it was prior to [the existence of] residencies. One day, I called the head of the medical department and told him I would like to run the emergency room. He replied that he had never heard of such a thing, but would look into it. That was in 1968.
In 1993, I co-founded ‘Physicians for a Violence-Free Society,’ a program that treated domestic violence as a healthcare issue. In 1998, I was granted the funding to create the Violence Intervention Prevention Center at Parkland Hospital in Dallas that dealt exclusively with survivors of domestic violence and survivors of human torture. That’s where I remained until 2001.”
3. What was it like to be a female surgeon in the ER?
“I was a rarity. Prior to medical school, I attended a small liberal arts college for women in Oklahoma. Because of that foundation, I was able to work well with the nurses (other female physicians seemed to have quite a lot of difficulty with this task). I was ready. I loved emergency medicine.”
4. Where did you go to school? What was it like?
“I attended the University of Oklahoma medical school. In a class of 100, there were only seven women! The only way I made it through was with the support of a mentor who was my boss. He gave me a sense of security and restored my self-worth that had been stripped away by my fellow male medical students.”
5. How did you manage the high-intensity stress of your job?
“I was an adrenaline junkie! The higher the stress, the happier I was. I never got bored!”
6. What was the most rewarding part of your job?
“Saving lives and limbs. There is no better high than saving a life!”
7. What characteristics are needed to be a good emergency room physician?
“You must be able to tolerate high levels of stress. You must be able to develop a quick rapport and trust with patients in a very short amount of time. But most of all, you must be constantly curious. Curiosity drives learning.”
8. What advice do you have for people who want to pursue a career in emergency medicine?
“Learn to manage stress, and travel widely. I participated in the first emergency physician exchange program to Russia and learned so much! I wish I had traveled more. Also, get a liberal arts education if at all possible and read as much as you can to gain an understanding of human nature and an understanding of human nature under stress.”
9. Would you do it again?
“Without a doubt! What is the phrase? ‘In a New York minute!’”