Bemidji doctor was at the forefront of certifying emergency room physicians in the U.S.
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Dr. Richard Stennes, a Bemidji emergency room doctor, recently sat beside his friend and colleague, an ER doctor himself, the first to be elected president of the American Medical Association. "This was unthinkable back in '71,"...
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Dr. Richard Stennes, a Bemidji emergency room doctor, recently sat beside his friend and colleague, an ER doctor himself, the first to be elected president of the American Medical Association.
"This was unthinkable back in '71," Stennes said.
In those days, he explained, there was no emergency medicine specialty. ER doctors could have been dermatologists, pediatricians, whoever was available to fill the shift. Emergency physicians were frequently the leftovers, those doctors who didn't fit somewhere else, who maybe didn't get along with their co-workers, those who were perhaps on the edge of becoming unemployable.
"Every one of us one day is going to have the big one -- something's going to happen and you're going to arrive at the local emergency department," Stennes said. "... You're going to look up from that table .. and think, 'I hope God's with me today,' and the closest thing you're going to have is whoever that person is that the hospital has arranged to have at your bedside. Because you're not going to have a choice. It's whoever the hospital has arranged to have there. And you're going to hope it's the best."
Stennes, a Bemidji native, was among the medical pioneers who laid the groundwork to certify physicians for emergency medicine. After graduating high school in '62, he graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in '69 before serving for one year as a battalion surgeon with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam. In 1971, he went to San Diego to staff hospitals, taking note of the need for expertly trained emergency physicians.
"I was the 43rd board-certified emergency physician in the country in 1980," said Stennes, past president of both the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Board of Emergency Medicine. "Now we're up to 30-some thousand. As they come through, compared to the early days and now, I'm just amazed with the ability and personality of these young people."
Dr. Steven J. Stack, an emergency physician from Kentucky, could not immediately recall his exact number, knowing only that he was somewhere in the 20,000 range.
But the number probably most applicable for Stack these days is No.1: The doctor this past summer became president-elect of the American Medical Association and will serve his yearlong term beginning summer 2015.
Not only will Stack become the 170th president of the AMA, but at age 43, he will be the youngest AMA president to hold the position since Dr. Charles Pope in 1854-55 and the second-youngest in AMA's history. He also will be the first-ever emergency physician to hold the presidency.
Stack, visiting Bemidji last month, credited the work of his longtime friend Stennes and other medical professionals for identifying and creating the pathway toward a certification in emergency medicine.
"Through their leadership and the things that they did to help create a specialty that did not exist, I have the opportunity now to be the first-ever emergency physician to be president of the American Medical Association," he said.
Emergency medicine, Stack said, has come a long way.
"It was the wild, wild West; there was a crying need to standardize it," he said, looking back. "This is not where you send the rejects. You need the best people you can possibly have when people are acutely ill and time really matters."
That is happening now today, the doctors agreed. Stack, in fact, said that in some ways, the public takes it for granted that it has immediate access to highly trained physicians.
"You come to Sanford (Bemidji) Medical Center, you come in and you've gotten hit by a car or your belly's hurting and it turns out you have acute appendicitis," he said. "We take for granted that people used to die routinely from ruptured appendixes, that the likelihood of you dying from appendicitis now, while not zero, is pretty close to it. We've come leaps and bounds."