BELLEVUE – The new medical director of the Bellevue Fire Department is a 32-year-old Coloradan and Creighton University graduate who practices emergency medicine at the Nebraska Medical Center.
He’s also the medical director of the state of Nebraska, Sarpy County Dispatch, the Cass County Emergency Management Agency, the Elmwood Volunteer Fire Department, the Weeping Water Fire Department, the Nehawka Rural Fire Department and Greenwood Volunteer Fire and Rescue.
Not to mention the assistant medical director of the Omaha Fire Department and Creighton University EMS Education.
“I caught the bug at Creighton, as an undergraduate in paramedic school, and have dedicated my life and career to doing this on a full-time basis,” Eric Ernest said Thursday during an interview at the Bellevue Fire Department.
He said the “acuity” and the “time critical” nature of emergency medicine appealed to him, and that if a medical school path had not opened to him he likely would have become a paramedic on a fire department.
Three weeks ago Ernest was appointed medical director for the state of Nebraska, where he oversees the broad spectrum of EMS services across the state. That appointment raised to even further prominence a young physician whose energetic approach to emergency medicine — both before and after a patient arrives at the hospital door — reflects an emerging movement within the medical profession to designate emergency medicine its own specialty with a distinct body of knowledge.
Ernest earned his medical degree from Creighton University in 2010 and performed his residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center where he is now an assistant professor.
His service with so many fire and rescue agencies, combined with his work on several state projects, resulted in his recent appointment as state medical director.
“I think they see me as a young, up-and-coming person who can lead the state to the next phase,” he said.
That next phase, Ernest said, is well underway across the nation as board certification in emergency medicine is increasingly required for medical directors by fire and rescue systems in major cities.
“There was a recent acknowledgment by the American Board of Medical Specialties that EMS is its own distinct entity of knowledge,” he said. “If you look at a lot of the major EMS systems — the big systems like Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, Houston — many of them now require board certification in EMS.
“I think it’s nothing but good for our industry and adds another level of professionalism.”
Ernest’s path began when he pursued a biology degree at Creighton, switching his major to emergency medicine when he discovered Creighton had an EMS program. He entered the Creighton University School of Medicine, graduated in 2010, and served a three-year residency at UNMC.
That’s where it got interesting.
He undertook an additional year of training in an EMS Fellowship program that allowed him to pass board exams in EMS and pre-hospital medicine. He emerged from that process as the only Fellowship-trained, board-certified EMS physician in the state of Nebraska.
It was during his residency at UNMC that Ernest connected with the Bellevue Fire Department. In June 2014 he became its medical director.
The BFD’s modest size, Ernest said, makes it ideal for introducing new techniques and technologies that modern research has brought to emergency medicine.
It is, Ernest said, a “progressive” approach.
“The thing about emergency medicine is that its body of knowledge is expanding at a phenomenal rate,” Ernest said. “What we know now about cardiac arrest and resuscitation we didn’t know even three or four years ago.
“Taking the evolving body of knowledge, and employing that into a pre-hospital model is what keeps a department progressive. That means staying up to date with the literature, looking at what’s coming out, and applying all that to your own system.”