[sidebar]John R. Lumpkin, MD, MPH, FACEP, FACME, FAAN[/sidebar]
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.
I think it‘s really critical for emergency physicians to avoid seeing themselves as someone just showing up for a shift, but to recognize they’re part of a broader system. —John R. Lumpkin, MD, MPH, FACEP, FACME, FAAN
AG: Tell us a little bit about how you decided to pursue positions of leadership within ACEP.
JL: I started my career in ACEP with the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians. I joined the board of directors of the Illinois College, and I became the President-Elect and then the President of the Illinois College. I was very active in academic emergency medicine. I served as Chair of the Society of Teachers of Emergency Medicine while I was at the University of Chicago. That organization was one of the precursors for the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. They merged with the University Association for Emergency Medicine to form the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. I was active in a number of committees of the College. I chaired a committee that was established to determine the length and content for residencies in emergency medicine. In 1983, I was elected as Vice Speaker of the ACEP Council, and then, two years later, I was elected Speaker of the Council. I went on to the Board of Directors, where I served for two terms.
AG: Is there anything that you would tell someone who is preparing themselves for becoming a leader?
JL: The first thing I would say, and I believe this is a quote from Woody Allen, is “80 percent of success in life is showing up.” The role of ACEP is to do two things: protect the best interest of the patients that we serve and protect the specialty. There’s a third: to be concerned about those who commit themselves to providing emergency services as emergency physicians. Not only is it showing up, but I think my success has been related to benefiting from my commitment and service to the Colleges of Emergency Physicians.
AG: What role do you see for emergency medicine or emergency physicians in helping to address health disparities in our day-to-day encounters with patients and our operations?
JL: I think it’s really critical for emergency physicians to avoid seeing themselves as someone just showing up for a shift but to recognize they’re part of a broader system.
The emergency department and emergency physicians are in an ideal position to go beyond their shifts and be engaged with hospital administration, and also with the community, to think about that visit and that person in the emergency department as someone who is disconnected, and understanding that the emergency department can play a critical role in connecting them. The emergency physician becomes the connector, the pivot point, that can make the difference between someone chronically using the emergency department day after day and someone who actually is living a better life. I think our responsibility as emergency physicians is to think about the whole patient.
AG: What do you see as factors that could help move the needle successfully in solving some of the issues that we face?
JL: I think the factors that need to be addressed are both internal and external to the emergency department. First, there’s clear evidence that physicians and everyone in our society have biases and stereotypes. There’s clear evidence that the longer you work on a shift, the more likely you are to use those biases in decision making. I think it’s important for emergency physicians to understand how this occurs and to develop systems, including the use of electronic health records, to improve medical decision making.
The second is recognizing the issues that impact patients’ lives. For us in emergency medicine, we need to recognize that we can have an impact on those issues by being an advocate for those patients, and being an advocate not just to make sure that they get the best care but being advocates for the goal to create the environment where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.
AG: Tell me a little bit about your role in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
JL: I’m one of two program senior vice presidents. We’re responsible for the various programs that are supported and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. My specific role is to oversee our work related to developing leadership, engaging business, and transforming health and health care systems.
We are seeking to change the environment but also to have health care coordinate with public health and social services so that the needs—not only in the clinical setting but where people live, learn, work, and play—are addressed.
AG: Can you highlight some of your accomplishments?
JL: When I look back on my career, I hope I’ve contributed to the specialty through leadership, and one of my high points was being both Speaker and on the Board of Directors of the College and being the first African American to do that.
AG: I thank you so much for not only taking the time today but also for the inspiration that you’ve been and the example you’ve set for so many, particularly minorities in the field of emergency medicine.