BHS Grad Serves as ER Doctor in Chicago Area and Local Hospitals

by Paula McKibben   “It’s a long road to becoming a doctor, and I often joke that I probably would not have done it had I known what it was going to take to accomplish it. It is expensive, but my student loans are minimal because I chose not to go to the most expensive private school but public schools that offered me scholarships,” says Dr. Samantha Peña Chavez, daughter of Judy Augsburger.
   Currently, she works as an emergency room (ER) doctor in Chicago at several different hospitals. However, she chooses to come back to Bluffton every few weeks to work a weekend in the emergency room at Bluffton Hospital or Lima St. Rita’s. “I was really happy to come back to Bluffton Hospital as I started work there in 2006 when I was in high school as a tech (like a nurse aide) in the medsurg unit, occasionally working in the ER (the small three bed ER that was there before). I was excited to come back to the hospital as the physician in the ER. It was really nostalgic for me.”
   Samantha graduated from BHS in 2007. She loved math and science and was steered to a summer program at Ohio State for students interested in medicine by her guidance counselor, Mr. Shivley.
   After high school, she graduated from Bowling Green State University with a B.S. in neuroscience in 2010 and from the University of Toledo College of Medicine with a doctorate of medicine in 2014.
   Deciding what to do in medicine was tough for Samantha. At first, she fell in love with anatomy and wanted to be a surgeon. By her third year, she was considering emergency medicine and made the final decision to stay in ER because it was shift work that didn’t require her to carry a pager. Also, she still got to do procedures in emergency, and she was able to spend more time with her family and less time in the hospital.
   She and her husband, Washington, decided to settle in Chicago, the place where she did her residency. This is where they had their two children, Viviana and Giovanni.
   According to Samantha, “Chicago is a beautiful city. The diversity of the people was what captivated me. I loved all the different cultures and religions and languages and food. Chicago is (in my opinion) one of the best places to train in emergency medicine.”
   However, since Chicago is so diverse, the emergency room is not just a matter of asking the patient what is wrong or talking to persons who accompany him/her. She works at five different hospitals from the south side (mainly African American and the Chinese from neighboring Chinatown) to the west side (heavily Hispanic where I spend at times the majority of my shifts speaking Spanish) to the northern suburbs (mainly middle class Caucasian and Polish population). I’ve gotten familiar with using translators to care for all the patients that speak languages other than Spanish and English.”
   In the emergency room, she deals with the stabilization of critically ill patients, with making decisions about who stays in the hospital and who goes home, and with decisions regarding who needs a specialist or an acute intervention. She does procedures that include laceration repairs to intubations to central line placements to chest tubes to paracentesis (removing fluid from the belly area) to reductions of displaced fractures and dislocations of joints. Then there are ultrasounds for pregnant women, heart patients and trauma patients with abdomen injuries.
   As an ER doctor, she has learned how to manage everything from shunts for excess cerebrospinal fluid, to sickle cell disease and transplant patients. She says, “It’s a fun job because in the same hour, I could be pulling a bead out of a toddler’s ear, doing an ultrasound on a pregnant woman to let her know if the baby looks OK, then right next door, be running a code on a critically ill and dying patient.”
Critical cases are especially important to her because they often improve dramatically – cases such as “septic (infectious) patients or patients in acute heart failure with pulmonary edema (water in the lungs) who require procedures like endotracheal intubation and central venous lines. The acute STEMI (heart attack patients) that go into v-fib and require shocks are always intense. But it’s amazing because one minute they’re getting shocked because their heart stopped, and the next they’re sitting up talking to you!”
   Her life in the emergency room is pretty dramatic. “We’re often seeing people at the most vulnerable and scary moments of their lives. I will never forget the scream of the young woman who was just told that her two-year-old son had died after being hit by the car when they were crossing the street.”
   However, she says that shows like “Chicago Med” tend to overdramatize. “We don’t have time to sit, break down in tears after a sad case because there’s always an ER full of more patients to be seen. That being said, [the shows] are fair representations of the variety of cases we will see in the ER, and some encounters are very dramatic.” She sees gunshot wounds, suicide attempts and overdoses. “I’ve been cursed at and swung at by patients, and it’s a near daily event to have the heroin overdose patient that goes from dead to awake and screaming at you after Narcan. It’s a hard job, and I think most ER shows do a fair job of sharing that with viewers.”
   It doesn’t matter that the job is hard; Samantha plans to be the best emergency medicine physician that she can be for her patients. “It’s a career where studying never ends. There’s always new studies and procedure techniques and medications and treatments to learn about. I hope in 20 years I’m still as energetic as I am now and reading and studying to stay relevant in my field.”
   Right now, the opioid epidemic is making her job more difficult. “It’s destroying lives, and we are being put under increasing scrutiny to decrease our use of narcotics, but, at the same time, being criticized for our patient satisfaction scores when the patients leave angry because their pain wasn’t treated ‘adequately.’” She has served on medical missions in Honduras, Guatemala and Ecuador where Tylenol was the only medicine for pain. “Nobody gets prescriptions for hydrocodone. We, as a country, need to reconsider pain and understand that it’s OK to feel pain sometimes. A lot of patients expect to be pain free. But that’s how opioid addiction starts.”
   “It’s a long road, but looking back, it was fun,” says Samantha. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else!”