The specialty of emergency medicine is the safety net for our nation’s health care system. What—or more important, who—fortifies that safety net? Emergency medicine is filled with gratification but includes just as many challenges. Those in our lives serve as the pillars of support for us as emergency physicians, the unseen foundation that allows for our return to the trenches day in and day out. This column will highlight the pillars of support in many emergency physicians’ lives. Thank you to those who support us.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 37 – No 03 – March 2018
To start the series, ACEP Now Medical Editor in Chief Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, recently sat down with Matty Parker, husband of immediate ACEP Past President Rebecca Parker, MD, FACEP, to discuss his experience being married to an ACEP president and the challenges and rewards of supporting an emergency physician.
KK: Tell us about you, Matty.
MP: The first job I ever held was as a professional baker. I did that because my father very graciously trained me through his bakery, which he owned for about 40 years. I was a dishwasher, floor washer, and cake decorator. I found the love of music and learned to play trombone along the way. I taught music during the summers, helping to pay for college, and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in English and American literature. I was a middle school teacher. For 20 years, I taught instrumental music during the summers, and that’s how I met Becky. She was teaching trumpets, and I was teaching trombones and baritones with a group out of Casper, Wyoming, the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps.
KK: It has been wonderful to meet you through Becky, and your level of commitment has been pretty substantial. When did all that begin?
MP: I think it began when Becky became a part of her first democratic group in Illinois, and we had to sign to put our house on the line for the group. I thought I better find out what the specialty is and what it does because now I’m on the line for it. It was well worth it. I learned a lot about her business. She showed such a passion for it, just as she helped me with my passions over the years, and I can’t thank her enough for that. I went to my first ACEP conference 20 years ago.
KK: Can you speak to your family’s time investment in ACEP?
MP: Before Becky ran for an ACEP office, I helped write a speech for an ACEP election. I am a writer—my degree is in English and American literature—and somebody asked Becky to look at their speech. She said, “That’s not what I do, but my husband is a writer. Would you like him to look at the speech?” I looked at it—it was for Cherri Hobgood—and she was very gracious. She introduced me as her speech writer. It was very nice of her. I knew that my goals as an English teacher and a writer could complement what Becky was doing. The things I enjoyed doing just found a natural home in the things Becky was so passionate about.
KK: How do you feel this experience enriched or fulfilled you?
MP: When I started working with Becky on her ACEP duties, I met some extraordinary people who were a lot of fun, and I made friends with them over the years. I looked forward to seeing them year after year; I made my own friends. Some were spouses. Some were physicians. But I always had a good time. They gave us great advice about our own children whenever we had questions about what was coming up in our life. It was just an amazing resource of friends and family that supplemented our lives in general.
KK: How do you recommend other spouses, life partners, and significant others not be swallowed up by emergency medicine? How do you recommend maintaining your persona and your life while still supporting your spouse?
MP: I am always willing to tell Becky when it’s too much or if something’s not worth it. I’ll ask her what her goals are, and I’ll say, “These are my goals.” We’ve always had an open line of communication so that I have been willing to turn to her and say, “I can’t do that now.” I think, in the end, open communication is the key. It can be overwhelming. There are so many amazing things going on in the College that it could swallow you up. You just need to be willing to keep your eye on what is important to you, and it all will balance itself out.
KK: Great advice. Has it ever created conflict or controversy in your relationship?
MP: Of course there is conflict, but like I said, in the end, you just need to keep your eye on what you want [as a couple]. What do you want to get out of the experience, and what do you want to give to the experience? If you can keep those things in perspective, which is not as easy as it sounds, then you can fight through it—and yes, sometimes you fight through things. I don’t know if you’ve met my wife, but she’s tough. I don’t think I’m telling any secrets.
KK: Like others who share a life with a physician, do you ever get the sense that it’s hard for Becky to separate her roles? She is clearly in a position of authority within emergency medicine, ACEP, and other professional circles. It’s very easy for that to carry over to one’s personal life.
MP: Yes. We worked that out a long time ago, but still you’re right. Once she gave up all of her practice management duties and could just focus on being a physician and a physician leader, I think that took a lot of the stress off of her. I think her stress levels have been quite manageable, even for a physician, and it’s made everything a lot easier from my perspective.
KK: You’re a very supportive spouse. What goals have you had that she’s been able to support you with?
MP: There are some teaching things that I wanted to do that she helped me with during the summer for most of her ACEP career, which was pretty great. Right now, my goals are to make sure that my children get into middle school. After that, I want to go back to doing some things that I wanted to do, and it’s worked out pretty well. I’m thinking about some baking opportunities and also some teaching opportunities. There were some compromises that I willingly made for her to do her presidency, knowing that when she was done, I would get to do some of the things I wanted to do. Those are some of the bargains you have to make going into a relationship.
KK: That’s great, and as you said before, communication is important. I’ve seen it in practice. You two have a great relationship. How has ACEP affected your two boys?
MP: I think they believe that every time we go to a hotel they’re going to get the presidential suite, unfortunately. When that’s over, they’re going to be stunned. It’s been great. They did not participate a lot when Becky was on the ACEP Board. When Becky became President, we included them in everything. They got to meet a lot of children from around the country, which was a great experience for them, learning about things that they would never learn about otherwise if it wasn’t for ACEP.
KK: We must make certain we maintain a healthy work-life balance. What advice would you give to others who share a life with an emergency physician on maintaining that balance?
MP: Know your goals and stick to them. Know that you’re going to have to make some compromises if you’re married to a physician who’s going to serve the College and recognize as an absolute fact that the person serving is going to lose some perspective on the time drain. You’re going to have to remind them. The day Becky was done being President, I could see she started to relax a little bit. She came home and said to me, “I feel like I’ve been gone,” and I said, “You have been.” Now we are reintegrating into our nuclear family again.
KK: Any other thoughts or advice for people just handling the daily stresses of an emergency physician?
MP: Sometimes the physician just needs somebody to talk to without any advice or answers. I get that.
I think the stress isn’t any different than any other high-profile job. It’s going to test your mettle as a spouse. You should know what’s important to you and keep that in perspective. Sitting down with your spouse and saying, “These are the things I expect and need to do while you are doing what you do,” is very important. Becky always heard me or eventually heard me. It always worked out. That’s how we did it.
Call for Ideas
Emergency medicine is tough, and it would be ever tougher without the people who provide critical support at home, allowing emergency physicians to provide the best care possible. Do you know of a spouse, significant other, life partner, family member, or other individual we should interview for a future EM Pillars of Support column? We want to hear from you! Send your suggestion and a brief explanation of why they are a critical supporter of the EM community to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may feature them in a future issue.