Emergency medicine physician Peter Acker, MD, was drawn to Stanford by a fellowship program in international emergency medicine program. He arrived in 2013, but his interest in science is older, driven by his early efforts to uncover a “tangible truth.” I caught up with him to learn more.
Where are you from?
That’s a tough question to answer. My parents live in Iowa, but I grew up in many places. I was born in Connecticut but moved to Tanzania, then on to Oregon, Greece and finally Iowa. Stanford and the Bay Area are home now, though.
How did you get interested in international emergency medicine?
Sadly, so much of the world’s population lacks access to quality emergency care, a very scary reality for many. My interest in international emergency medicine is driven by a desire to share emergency medicine skills and knowledge on a large scale, through systems strengthening and capacity building interventions, to bring emergency services to places where they don’t currently exist.
What are you working on today?
Right now, I’m working on a few items to support a project we’re involved with in Myanmar. Currently in Myanmar, emergency departments exist, but little emergency training is available. Along with our local partners, we have helped set up an 18-month postgraduate emergency medicine certificate program. Participants receive a longitudinal emergency medicine curriculum delivered by our faculty, paired iwht experiential learning opportunities and mentorship by emergency medicine experts. At the end of the course, they’ll have the skills to be more effective emergency providers and we hope, will teach the next generation.
The group I work with is called Stanford Emergency Medicine International. It’s an amazing group of talented physicians who are also researchers and educators dedicated to improving access to emergency care throughout the world. At the moment, we’re working in Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal, India and we’re developing projects in a number of other countries.
What’s the biggest challenge in your field right now?
In emergency medicine domestically, one of the big challenges is balancing efficiency with the quality time you get to spend with a patient — the human aspects of a therapeutic relationship.
How do you do that?
One key skill required to balance these factors is the ability to gain a patient’s trust and develop rapport quickly with people you meet. We typically don’t have a lot of time to develop relationships with our patients, but having a high level of professionalism and being able to truly relate and empathize puts them at ease.
What is most fulfilling about your job?
The true human connections we make with our patients are the best part. Although our attention is pulled in many directions, it is essential to take a step back and see the person in front of you. They come seeking help for something painful, scary or anxiety provoking, and to connect with them and address both their physical needs as a patient and their emotional needs as a human is very special.
How do you unwind?
I like to surround myself with people who are supportive and bring positive energy and perspective. I have a wonderful wife, a lovable although dopey dog and amazing friends.
Getting exercise is also really helpful. It gives me a chance to process things and to not think too much. Getting out to surf with friends is one of my favorites.
What do you listen to?
I like medical podcasts that keep me up to date. I like to listen to NPR on my way home from work to stay connected with the real world. When I’m just relaxing, I go for the Rolling Stones.
What is the best trip you’ve ever taken and why?
Living in Cambodia for a year was fantastic. Meeting new friends and seeing life and culture from their perspective was very enlightening.
Do you have any favorite foods?
Living in Asia got me hooked on savory breakfast. I miss a hot bowl of soup and noodles for breakfast in the morning.
Stars of Stanford Medicine features standout scholars in the School of Medicine.
Previously: Stars of Stanford Medicine: “I want to leave an impact on medical care” and Stars of Stanford Medicine: Avid runner and accessible health care advocate
Photo by Alyssa Tamboura