By Chris Motola
Never a dull moment at the hospital’s ER: ‘We see just about everything,’ says DeGraff Hospital physician who works 12-hour shifts at the emergency department
Q: As an emergency medicine physician, what does your typical day look like?
A: I’m an emergency room physician at DeGraff Hospital. I work for UBMD and work at Suburban and Eastern Niagara at Lockport. I’m also a physician liaison for all the physician assistants in our group, so I supervise all of the advance practice providers in our group. During a typical day at DeGraff, I usually work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. A PA [physician assistant] usually comes in to assist me with work around 11 o’clock. I may or may not have a resident with me who I supervise. I typically see whatever walks in through the door: kids, adults, elderly people. Anything from lacerations to heart attacks, strokes, abdominal pain. We see just about everything at DeGraff.
Q: Emergency room physicians generally have to be broad in their skill set, not unlike primary care physicians, but the specialties are still pretty different. What would you say some of the key differences are with regard to training and competencies?
A: In emergency medicine we’re obviously there to treat acute emergency issues, but we do also treat long-term conditions. We have to act a little more quickly than someone in primary care, although both of us are similar in that we know a little about a lot of things, as opposed to a specialist who knows a lot about one specific area. Compared to primary care, I’d say our focus is more procedural-based. We do things like intubations, drain abscesses, put temporary casts on patients. With primary care you’re monitoring health and wellness over a long period of time. We’re more looking at acute illness.
Q: What got you interested in emergency medicine?
A: A few things. I liked that you never knew what your day was going to be like. You never knew what your schedule would be. You can’t predict what patients and conditions will walk through the door. I like that I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I still learn something new every day, whether from a patient, a nurse or another provider. I’m always getting educated. It’s also shift work. You come in, put in your time and then you go home. You’re not usually on call. I also like that I basically get to wear pajamas to work every day; I get to wear scrubs. That’s another thing that drew me to the field. I like the camaraderie with the nurses. We’re in close proximity to the nursing station and we work closely with them. It has more of a family feel. Not that you wouldn’t get that in the office, I think it just happens more easily. I like the variety of the schedule. Sometimes I work on the weekend and holidays, but it also gives me some schedule flexibility, which makes it easier to have a family with kids and make events.
Q: What’s the craziest day you’ve had?
A: I lived and worked in Chicago for about 15 years. I had a shift there that was probably the craziest shift I’d ever had. It was an overnight shift and I was pretty new at the time, pretty fresh out of residency. And I was working alongside a doctor who had gotten sick and had to go home. I had three patients get dropped off at the door who were either shot or stabbed. At the same time I had a patient who was crashing and had to be intubated and put on a ventilator. And I had a demented patient who was trying to escape. It was one of the craziest nights I’ve ever had. The good news is the shift always ends. That one went quickly. But it was definitely a crazy day.
Q: COVID-19 complicated ER situations over the last couple years. How is COVID-19 being handled now? Are things more or less back to normal?
A: I think in the ER things didn’t change all that much. We’re probably the only part of medicine that didn’t. We saw patients all through COVID-19 pretty much as normal, other than the precautions we took and are still taking with regard to gowning up, masks and gloves. Most surgical procedures are back to normal. Some doctor’s offices are still a little bit reluctant to see patients with COVID-19, so they get sent to us, which increases our volume. But for us in the ER, it’s pretty much business as usual. We see everyone, whether or not you have COVID-19. Each room at DeGraff is separate since our remodel, so we’re in good shape for containing patients if we need to and keeping them and staff safe.
Q: Are you still seeing a lot of patients with COVID-19 compared to a year ago?
A: We are seeing patients with COVID-19, but the numbers have definitely decreased; the symptoms and severity of illness has decreased as well.
Q: You mentioned working 12-hour days. Are you on a few days then off a few days?
A: Well, for me personally, I work three to four days a week. Sometimes five if I pick up extra hours. Most of the shifts at my group are 12 hours, but there are some 11- and 10-hour shifts. I prefer 12-hour shifts, because if I’m already there, what’s two more hours? The flexibility of the schedule is nice. Some weeks I work a little heavier, some weeks I work a little lighter.
Q: How would you sell emergency medicine to a medical student who wasn’t sure what they wanted to do yet?
A: I think the fact that it encompasses so much of medicine. You see OB-GYN, you see cardiology, you see psychiatry, you see dermatology, you see trauma. I liked it all in medical school, so I gravitated to the specialty where I could do it all. So I think it’s actually a great field for someone who is undecided. It’s also good for people who like to work with their hands or interact with people a lot. And if you don’t like getting dressed up for work, it’s a great choice.
Name: Melissa M. DeSantis, M.D.
Position: Emergency medicine physician at DeGraff Hospital
Hometown: Niagara Falls
Education: University of Buffalo
Affiliations: Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital; Eastern Niagara Hospital
Family: Three children, two step-children
Hobbies: Watching her kids play sports, exercise, skiing, Bills football