Dr. Gary Tamkin, MD, FACEP, Vice President of Provider Development, is not your average physician. With over 30 years of experience in the field of emergency medicine, Dr. Tamkin has diversified his career in more ways than most would consider possible. One of the more unique ways in which he has diversified his career is by serving as the Medical Director for the California Highway Patrol and as the SWAT Physician for the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.
From a young age, Dr. Tamkin was drawn to the energy of both emergency medicine and law enforcement. “Around the age of ten, my two older sisters would let me stay up with them to watch the television series Adam-12 and Emergency!” reminisced Dr. Tamkin. “I loved the intensity and action of both series and at that time, I knew I would be involved in first responder services in some capacity.”
Fast-forward a few years to sophomore year of high school, Dr. Tamkin found himself taking an emergency medical technician course at UCLA. “I had the opportunity to get out of class (a high-schoolers dream!) to go to the university and take coursework for credit,” said Dr. Tamkin. “I loved what I was learning and from that point on I was always involved in pre-hospital care.”
During his undergraduate studies, Dr. Tamkin opted to stay involved in fieldwork and worked as an EMT throughout college. He also served as the Director of the Brown University student-run EMS program. He then went on to earn his MD at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine and completed his residency in emergency medicine at Highland General Hospital in Oakland, California.
Dr. Tamkin has served in a variety of EMS roles including Bay Area Medical Director for American Medical Response, Vacaville City Fire Department Medical Director, and Medical Director of the Chabot Paramedic College. Since 2005, Dr. Tamkin has served as the Medical Director for the California Highway Patrol alongside his role as a full-time emergency medicine physician. He was immediately sold on the position when the opportunity arose given his childhood memories of the television series he so fondly remembered. “When I shared with my sisters that I would be working for the California Highway Patrol they about fell out of their seats!” laughed Dr. Tamkin.
One might ask, why does the California Highway Patrol need a Medical Director? The California Highway Patrol is a self-contained police academy which means the training program for cadets is all on-site. All medical components of the training, such as first-aid, are overseen by the Medical Director. There is also a paramedic program within the highway patrol that utilizes officer-paramedics and, on average, answers 350 advanced life support calls annually. Dr. Tamkin provides instruction to officers in street drug recognition, tactical combat causality care, and the management of occupational exposures. He has a passion for officer wellness, as well as clinician wellness for his USACS colleagues, and serves as the Team Physician for his officers when they mobilize as large forces across the state. Dr. Tamkin’s experience in the field made him the perfect candidate for the position.
It is not uncommon for Dr. Tamkin to be on-the-go as he travels the state routinely for meetings, site visits, and training to ensure the approximately 7,000 officers of the patrol force are always prepared from a medical standpoint. When he’s not making his way across the state fulfilling his administrative and training duties, Dr. Tamkin can often be found on ride-along duties in the dual mission helicopters that the highway patrol operates.
“It’s unique to have helicopters that serve both medical and law enforcement purposes,” said Dr. Tamkin. “The dual functionality of the helicopter allows us to be much more efficient in answering calls and provides us with the ability to address most issues at the scene.”
Though it is evident Dr. Tamkin has his hands full with his administrative role at USACS, his bed-side physician duties, and his part-time medical director commitment to the California Highway Patrol, he elects to volunteer as the SWAT team physician for the Merced County sheriff’s department.
“Due to my tenure at the California Highway Patrol and years of tactical emergency medical training, I was a great fit for the volunteer position at the sheriff’s department,” said Dr. Tamkin. “My USACS site, Mercy Medical Center Merced, is in the same county so when they recruited me, it just made sense to take the position.”
In this volunteer position, Dr. Tamkin acts as a full operational member of the SWAT team and oversees all medical personnel called to the scene. Though these calls are infrequent given the high threshold that would require this type of intervention, Dr. Tamkin is ready to take action and join his team to face whatever calls come their way. He also is prepared to care for his fellow officers given the dangers they often face when entering emergency scenarios.
When asked why he makes it a point to wear so many hats at one time, Dr. Tamkin proudly answered:
“EMS, pre-hospital care, and first responders are a huge part of our legacy in terms of emergency medicine,” said Dr. Tamkin. “I feel so privileged to be able to wear all these hats and put my training and skill set to great use daily in so many ways. Serving in these roles plays a significant part in my career satisfaction, and I am proud to be a member of both the medical and law enforcement communities.”