Emergency medicine department celebrates 10 years


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The state of Iowa’s only emergency-medicine residency is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Residents in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ program hone their skills in the stabilization, management, diagnosis, and disposition of individuals with acute illness and injury.

A large part of the program’s mission is to help staff and support more rural areas, especially in Iowa. 

“Before [the emergency-medicine residency program], we were an academic program without an academic mission,” said UIHC Emergency Medicine Chairman Andrew Nugent.

Emergency medicine is a relatively recent addition to the list of medical specialties officially recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. It arrived on the scene in 1979, and the first certification exam was conducted in 1980. 

Residents help certified staff manage more than 60,000 patient visits a year, admitting approximately 15,000 patients annually. 

About two-thirds of the graduates are either working in Iowa or the states immediately surrounding it, Nugent said.

The ambitious program’s success was not always certain.

In the beginning, faculty and students had to deal with smaller work areas that made it difficult to see as many patients, he said.

“Everyone that started had to take a leap of faith,” said program graduate Michael Schwemm. “There were no guarantees that it was going to be successful.”

Schwemm was a resident in the program’s first graduating class, and says he is still very close to his fellow graduates. 

In recognition of the continuing need for quality healthcare providers, the UIHC’s Emergency-Medicine program hosts an 18-month physician-assistant program, which began in 2008 and is the only program of its kind in the country. 

Physician assistants receive a truncated version of the full three-year residency, which enables them to practice in any emergency, acute care, or intensive care setting with physician supervision.

Program directors have also managed to get residents involved in the UIHC’s prestigious AirCare helicopter ambulance service, which is based in Iowa City and Waterloo. 

Azeemuddin Ahmed, who serves as executive vice head of the department, said he hopes to continue to expand the size of the program and the scope of its service. 

“We now share an equal seat at the table with these other departments, some of which have been around for 100 years,” he said.

Despite the growth, Ahmed said he has had the opportunity to work with every student that has ever participated in the program.

While it continues to increase the number of residencies offered, the department has also begun to invest more in their telemedicine initiative.

Telemedicine allows faculty and staff of the Emergency Medicine Department to communicate with patients and providers in order to help them with consultations.  It allows physicians in more remote areas access to the expertise and knowledge of the UIHC.

The program is small, but growing as participants continue to voice their appreciation of the service.

“We’re not the new kids on the block,” Ahmed said.

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