A day in the life of an emergency department doctor | TheUnion.com

A day in the life of an emergency department doctor

Amy Abt
Special to The Union

Emergency Departments are known to be the most fast-paced and highly utilized areas of a hospital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 135 million people a year will visit their local ER – about 43 per 100 individuals. Emergency department staff works on what is considered their hospital's frontlines, stabilizing patients before directing them to specialists who can take over their care.

At Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, the Emergency Department is open 24/7, 365 days a year to the approximately 75,000 residents that the hospital serves. The ED averages more than 100 patients a day, equating to more than 35,000 patients annually.

Popular TV shows often show individuals coming into emergency departments under life-or-death circumstances, however the majority of ED patients generally come in with problems ranging from cuts and broken bones to headaches and stomach pains. In addition to treating physical maladies, patients may also come to SNMH's ED suffering from mental health or drug-related crises, or because they do not have a primary care doctor or cannot afford health insurance.

I had a chance to spend some time with Dr. Danner Hodgson, SNMH ED doctor, to better understand the complexity of what he deals with daily.

Upon meeting in the ED, he was quick to explain that his job is completely unpredictable, always exciting and incredibly rewarding.

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Hodgson's day starts off with a bike ride to SNMH. He rides his mountain bike to and from work as a form of exercise, which he says is important for his health since his line of work can be intense. After arriving for his shift – which can vary for all the ED doctors and for Hodgson can sometimes start as early as 4 a.m. – he prepares for what is usually a 10-hour shift by checking the roster of patients to see which are the most critical and need immediate attention.

On the day I met with Hodgson, he told me the patients he was seeing included: someone with chest pain, someone with belly pain, someone who fell, someone who got beat up, someone with knee pain, a cancer diagnosis, someone with smashed shins and a few patients in need of psychiatric assistance.

While visiting with patients Hodgson likes to sit down next to them to provide comfort, ask about their symptoms and review their medical history, surgeries, medical conditions, daily lifestyle and current medications. After assessing a patient with stomach pains, he tells them that there might be several reasons for the pain, but assures them that together they will figure it out. As Hodgson determines his next steps, he works with clinical staff to make sure the patient is made comfortable.

As he continues through his day, Hodgson comments that he enjoys his job a lot. He has been at the hospital for more than 10 years and his favorite part of his job is the hands-on caring of patients.

"The first two hours of care are crucial to patients that come in under traumatic or critical circumstances," he said. "Making a diagnosis can be challenging when patients present with complex cases. We work very hard to get it right."

SNMH ED and Ultrasound Director Dr. Carl Alsup agrees, adding, "We really are in the trenches in this department. They say emergency medicine is the most interesting 15 minutes of every other specialty."

While SNMH ED staff and physicians like Hodgson and Alsup are able to consistently provide exceptional patient care, they work in a facility originally built to accommodate 15,000 patients annually but is now serving more than 35,000. In order to maintain quality health care at the local hospital, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation has launched a $2 million campaign toward SNMH's overall project budget of $12 million to provide a crucial renovation to the ED.

This project will add two Rapid Treatment Units to provide an expedited pathway to less urgent medical needs, additional patient beds, a quiet and safe environment for patients in crisis, a family counseling room for difficult discussions, closer access for stroke care, and more.

In addition, an inpatient Diagnostic Imaging project is currently under construction, which will provide new equipment including an MRI, CT and Nuclear Medicine area that will ensure a greater capacity of care for patients needing diagnostic services. SNMHF previously raised more than $700,000 for this effort.

SNMHF has currently surpassed more than $1 million of the $2 million goal and invites western Nevada County community members to help make this vital Emergency Department transformation possible. To learn more or to donate, please visit http://www.supportsierranevada.org/ourpromise or call SNMHF Executive Director Kimberly Parker at 530-477-9700.

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