Just four decades ago, very few hospitals offered programs to train future doctors who wanted to work in emergency rooms.
Akron General Medical Center was one of them.
This week, the hospital is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its emergency medicine residency program, the first community-based training program of its kind in the world. As least 50 former residents are expected for a reunion and weekend festivities.
“It’s a long and storied history,” said Dr. Jack Bradford, an emergency medicine physician at Akron General who trained at the hospital in the late 1970s and never left.
When Bradford, 65, came to Akron in 1978 from Iowa for his residency, he expected to finish his training and leave.
Instead, he continued to work in the emergency department after finishing his training and raised a family in the Akron area. His daughter, Dr. Amber Bradford-Saffles, became the hospital’s first second-generation emergency medicine resident and now practices there.
Though millions of Americans are treated in emergency departments each year, the emergency medicine specialty is relatively new.
The world’s first emergency medicine residency started in 1970 at the University of Cincinnati.
Back then, ERs were staffed by unsupervised interns, young doctors trying to build their private practices or physicians in different areas of the hospital who took turns filling shifts, said Dr. Nicholas Jouriles, Akron General Health System’s emergency medicine chair.
“No one thought that it was significant enough for there to be a specialty,” Jouriles said.
As word spread about the emerging specialty, a gastroenterologist at Akron General, Dr. C.C. “Gus” Roussi, thought the ER needed more specialized staffing and formed a medical staff task force to launch an emergency medicine residency.
Doctors came to Akron from across the country to train in the new program.
Dr. Earl Smith, 66, was serving as an Air Force doctor in Southeast Asia in 1975 when he got an unexpected call in the middle of the night from Roussi.
“How would you like to come to Akron, Ohio, for your residency?” Roussi asked him.
“Where is Akron?” Smith asked, still half asleep.
At the time, Smith said, Akron General was offering one of only six emergency medicine residency programs in the country.
Some of the programs refused to offer him a residency without an in-person meeting — something he couldn’t do while fulfilling his military duties. But Roussi, himself a veteran, agreed to interview Smith over the phone and offered him a spot.
The emergency department at the time “was very basic,” Smith recalled. “Basically, a hallway with some little rooms off to the side with some beds. It was very bare, very plain.”
Back then, ER doctors didn’t have sophisticated MRIs and CTs to help with diagnoses.
“It was a much more clinical approach,” he recalled. “It was much more hands-on. You had to be a very good observer and you had to ask questions.”
Life-saving protocols and treatment for strokes and heart attacks weren’t yet available.
“Back in the 1960s or 1970s, if you had a heart attack, they would sit at your bedside and hold your hand and wish you well,” Jouriles said.
The training “was very diverse” and included time with specialists throughout the hospital and at Akron Children’s Hospital, he said.
“Some people have said emergency medicine physicians know a little bit about everything,” he said.
After finishing his residency, Smith was recruited to a hospital in Houston, making him the first emergency medicine-trained physician in the state of Texas.
Smith, who now lives in San Antonio and does consulting work, plans to come to Akron this week for the reunion.
“The residency itself, I loved it,” he recalled.
Over the years, emergency medical care exploded.
Thousands of patients
In the early years, the 15-bed emergency department at Akron General Medical Center had about 25,000 to 30,000 patient visits each year.
Akron General’s expanded, 39-bed main emergency department in downtown Akron and satellite departments in Bath Township, Green, Lodi and Stow now have about 105,000 annual patient visits.
“That’s a big change in a relatively short period of time,” Jouriles said.
Akron’s reputation in emergency medicine also has grown.
Dr. Nick Reinhart is finishing his third and final year this month in Akron General’s emergency medicine residency program. The Illinois native opted to train in Akron after hearing about the hospital’s strong reputation in the specialty while earning his medical degree in Arizona.
In 1978, Akron became the first city in the world with two emergency medicine training programs when Akron City Hospital started its residency.
Akron General’s Roussi, who died years ago, chaired the national committee that wrote the first exam for board certification in emergency medicine.
Jouriles and Dr. Brian Keaton, Akron General’s chief medical information officer, both are past presidents of the American College of Emergency Physicians. And Akron General’s Dr. Michael Beeson is a member of the board of directors of the American Board of Emergency Medicine, the group that oversees emergency medicine certification.
“Everybody knows people from Akron General,” Reinhart said.
Reinhart said the program has prepared him well for an ER job he will be starting soon in Peoria, Ill.
“An Akron General resident could go anywhere and they would be well accepted,” he said.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.