A lthough John R. Lumpkin, MD, MPH, FACEP, FACME, FAAN, was initially drawn to a career in biophysics, his desire to combine a love of science with a need to help people caused him to shift his focus to medicine. An evening working with a family friend in the emergency department at Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park, Illinois, cemented his interest in emergency medicine. A few years later, in 1976, he became the first African American emergency medicine resident, training at the University of Chicago under Peter Rosen, MD. After finishing residency, he joined the emergency medicine faculty at the University of Chicago.
Early in his career, he recognized the importance of government and politics in serving the needs of emergency physicians and their patients. He worked on key emergency medical services legislation in Illinois and went on to serve as director of the state’s Department of Public Health under three different governors.
He has also been an active member of the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians and ACEP for most of his career, serving in many leadership positions in both organizations. He served as Speaker of the ACEP Council from 1985 to 1987 and on the ACEP Board of Directors from 1987 to 1993, and he was the first African American to hold either position.
Dr. Lumpkin recently sat down with Andrea Green, MD, FACEP, an emergency physician and Chair of ACEP’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Health Equity Section, to discuss his career, his accomplishments, and his vision for the future of emergency medicine leadership. Here are some highlights from that discussion.
AG: John, your background and career have been impressive. What have been some of your guiding principles?
JL: I guess the best way to describe me is that I’m a believer in the ultimate goodness of my fellow man. I believe that I am a person who’s dedicated to service of my fellow man. That has been something that has guided me throughout my entire life, from my days in high school through my current career.
AG: Could you describe for us the career journey that you chose based on the way that you wanted to live your life and help other people?
JL: As I was growing up, I was always very interested in math and science. As I was going through high school, I said, “Well, I think I want to be a scientist. I’d like to be a biophysicist,” because I liked biology, physics, and chemistry. When I went off to school, my first year at MIT, I began to realize that so much was going on in the world with the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement, and if I actually became a biophysicist, I would spend all my life in the laboratory. I wanted to have an impact upon people and their lives. At that point, I knew I wanted to go to medical school and was fortunate to get into Northwestern.
My freshman year of medical school, I spent Christmas Eve working with Vera Markovin, MD, who was one of the early founders of the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians. She was a family friend, and it was that evening in 1971 that really got me interested in emergency medicine.
As I went through medical school, I really designed my career to do two things: one, to begin to take courses that would better prepare me to go into emergency medicine and, two, maintain my contacts. I was working with the Medical Committee for Human Rights and other organizations. I was fortunate to be able to join the emergency medicine residency at the University of Chicago and to train under Peter Rosen, MD.
While I was training as a resident, I worked with Harold Washington’s campaign; he was running for mayor in Chicago.
The Illinois Emergency Medical Services Systems Act was up for approval, and I assisted the chapter with it. Because of my activities on that, I was appointed chair of the EMS council by Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, and I began to have more and more experience with government and governmental bodies.
It was at that point in my career that I felt I needed to have more training because, as every emergency physician knows, the things that bring people into the emergency department often aren’t their clinical problems.
I went on to get a master’s degree in public health. One of the people I had worked with, who subsequently became the director of the Department of Public Health in Illinois, invited me to come in as a deputy director. When he left, I was appointed director, first under Gov. Thompson, then Gov. Jim Edgar, and then finally, Gov. George Ryan. I served in that position for 12 years. Throughout that time, my own personal identity was that I was an emergency physician first, and that always influenced me as I thought about my career.