Two New ER Docs Go On the Most Epic Road Trip/Job Search Ever

Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from a book of stories from USACS founding partner MEP Health. The book chronicles stories about their providers’ lives, values, motivations, and career paths. MEP Health joined USACS in December 2015.

Jenny and I met during my intern year at Syracuse. She was my medical student and her dorm was only a stone’s throw from the hospital. I could make it back to the ICU in less than three minutes. It was a scene straight out of Gray’s Anatomy. I’ll admit that it took a dozen times for me to realize that her requests to review EKGs yet again meant something entirely different than I thought. We started dating and she got very good at EKGs that year.

We spent a year apart while she was an intern in Massachusetts. After residency, I joined her in New England and began my career as an attending in Bristol, Connecticut. After a few years, we began thinking about where we might practice after she finished her residency.

One thing was clear: NO SNOW!

Jenny had grown up in upstate New York. I grew up near Lake Erie. While not as brutal as the lake effect snow that we were used to, New England had its share of snowfall those years too. As we figured it, we had spent far too much time in frigid temperatures and deep snow. We were sure that we did not want to return to our hometowns and we had no obligations to live anywhere in particular.

We realized that was a very unique circumstance to be in. So, we decided on an ambitious plan. We were going to cherry pick the very best Emergency Medicine job in the country. In addition to the geographic freedom of choice, we had some great letters of recommendation from ACEP & ABEM presidents and a nomination for a national resident of the year award to back up our hubris. So the stage was set for the biggest interview tour in the history of Emergency Medicine.

Although we had no love lost for snow, we did love the ocean, sailing and travel. Our plan was to arrange interviews all along the shore starting from the Gulf of Mexico and continuing up the eastern seaboard. It morphed from a well thought out plan to an absolute free-for-all. We’d leave one interview and drive to the next.

More than a few times we noticed an ED that hadn’t been on our itinerary, yet was still close enough to the ocean. We’d make a quick phone call to the hospital and get transferred over and over again until we were finally talking to the ED Medical Director. After introducing ourselves, we’d ask if they had openings and if they would be interested in interviewing us. They always were. When they asked about setting up an interview date, we would politely suggest that we were available “now.” A few minutes later, we’d throw on our suits and enter with resumes in hand.

By the end of our road trip, we were pros. The usual nervousness that accompanies an interview was only a distant memory. We got very good at spotting BS and took the initiative in conversations to uncover it if hidden. We had developed a very good sense of not only what we wanted, but figuring out what they really wanted (e.g. a warm body, an indentured servant, etc.)

Sometimes it wasn’t too hard to figure out that a place would not be a good fit. At one interview, we were touring the ED with the medical director. As he puffed up all the benefits of working there, we spotted one of the docs in the background motioning to us. We looked over the director’s shoulder to see her making a cutting motion with her hand across the front of her neck and shaking her head as if to say “Nooooooo!” She was signaling that we should move on from this ED and do so quickly. God knows what career mistake that doctor saved us from. Wherever she is, I’m forever grateful!

Another medical director interviewed us at his beach home shortly after his EGD/colonoscopy that day. He was still clearly under the influence of mind altering sedatives. Over the course of the interview, he spilled several drinks and numerous secrets that he shouldn’t have.

It must have been the truth serum. As we left, we said “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” That may have been a bit rude, but we were pretty sure he would be amnestic to the event.

We also met great people and uncovered outstanding opportunities. Over the course of 30+ interviews, we had seen it all and received many great offers. Our crazy interview tour was finally over and there was a lot of thinking to do on the long ride back up to New England.

After hours of driving, we pulled over to get some caffeine and stretch our legs. We were sitting in a coffee shop somewhere on the eastern shore of Maryland when MEP called. They were going to be staffing a new hospital in Leonardtown, MD. We unfolded the map (yes, an actual paper folding map) and figured that we could cross the Chesapeake Bay bridge and be there before midnight. Worn out and road weary, we took a left and headed across the Chesapeake.

At the time, St. Mary’s County was pretty rural (remember we were using a paper map and smartphones didn’t exist yet.) We got lost and it was so dark that we nearly drove straight into the water. We woke at dawn to the sound of an Amish buggy galloping down the street. On the way to the interview, I jokingly suggested that maybe we should call to say we couldn’t make it due to car trouble.

We met with Thai McGreivy (an original founding partner) and David Klein (current President and CMO). It was immediately clear that this group was different than all the others that we had interviewed with. Many companies have developed “Mission Statements” and “Core Values.” Sometimes they’ll put them on a wall or in an advertising pamphlet. But these guys just exuded excellence, compassion, integrity and trust. It wasn’t something they strived for; it was who they were.

Jenny and I were silent for a few hours after the interview was over, neither of us wanting to be the first to share our thoughts. The facts were that MEP was a single hospital group that had not even started staffing this ED. It wasn’t on the ocean. It wasn’t near an international airport. There were Amish buggies and it seemed far too rural for a young, still just-dating couple.

It took until the border of Connecticut before we blurted out our thoughts, suddenly and almost at the same time. We both agreed. Based almost entirely on the palpable culture and integrity of the group’s leadership, we would join MEP.

We were convinced and convincing enough that several of our friends decided to join us. So the seven of us (Pete, Jill B, Karl, Jill M, Matt G, Jenny and I) moved from New England to St. Mary’s County in southern Maryland. Bringing our own friends along made the move to an unknown area much easier.

While we didn’t end up on the ocean, we did have the benefit of the low cost of living on the water. On a new attending’s salary, we rented 12 acres directly on the Chesapeake Bay. The house had its own boat lift, so naturally we had to buy a brand new boat to go with it. In addition, St. Mary’s college has a nationally ranked sailing team and we were fortunate to master the art of sailing with the help of their excellent instructors.

Although we didn’t end up living by an international airport, that didn’t stop us from traveling extensively. Over the course of the next few years, we ran with the bulls in Pamplona, swam races from island to island in French Polynesia and completed the New York City marathon. We got our fill of the ocean too. We went scuba diving all over the world from Tahiti to the Seychelles. Highlights include the Blue Hole in Belize, night dives in a do-it-yourself scuba camp in Honduras, hand-feeding the man-eating tiger sharks of Fiji (without a cage!), and having an Oxford trained marine biologist as our scuba guide in the Maldives.

We have many fond (and some crazy) memories from our early years with MEP. Since then, we have all grown a lot. MEP now has multiple service lines and staffs ten EDs in three different states. Shortly after joining MEP, Jenny and I got married and we now have two boys: Jack Thoreau, age five, and Luke James, age three.