Former First Responder Makes Career Change 

First responders and emergency medicine go hand-in-hand. Therefore, it’s not surprising that some first responders transition into the field of emergency medicine. Maria Scarbrough, MD, is a great example of a former EMT who decided to pursue a career as an emergency medicine physician. In fact, she was one of the first graduates of Saint Louis University Hospital’s emergency medicine residency program.

SLU Hospital and Saint Louis University School of Medicine launched a three-year emergency medicine residency program in July 2009. As a Level I Trauma Center for both Missouri and Illinois, SLU Hospital has been a natural fit for this type of program.

“SLU Hospital sees a wide range of cases come through the emergency department, which makes it an ideal environment for teaching and learning,” says Vijai Chauhan, MD, an emergency medicine physician and director of SLU Hospital’s emergency medicine residency program. “From an educator’s standpoint, it’s more rewarding to work with residents throughout their residency rather than just seeing them for a part of it.”

Dr. Scarbrough’s journey from a basic EMT to an emergency medicine physician was not an easy one. Although she graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, she had always been interested in pursuing a career in medicine.

“The medical field seemed like an impossible dream,” says Dr. Scarbrough. “Test-taking has never been one of my strengths, so I didn’t think I could survive medical school, let alone, pass the MCATs.”

Despite her reservations, Dr. Scarbrough remained passionate about a potential career in medicine. Then, in 2002 while traveling abroad in China, she made the decision to go back to school to complete the required pre-med courses to apply to medical school. To enrich her career experience, she also worked one shift a week as a tech in the emergency department at SLU Hospital between 2002 and 2004. That’s where she met Dr. Chauhan, who became a mentor for Dr. Scarbrough, providing her with guidance and support.

After completing the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Scarbrough took her MCATs and applied to medical schools. And in 2005, she enrolled in the School of Medicine at the University of Illinois – Champaign. Medical school was challenging, but Dr. Scarbrough appreciated the small class size and strong relationships she built with her professors. Plus, her experience as a basic EMT helped her better prepare for medical school’s academic challenges.
In 2009, Dr. Scarbrough graduated from medical school and began exploring her residency options. Given her previous training, emergency medicine seemed like a perfect fit. However, she knew emergency medicine was one of the more challenging programs in the field. Then, Dr. Scarbrough heard about SLU Hospital’s new emergency medicine residency program.

“I was really excited that the hospital launched an emergency medicine residency program,” says Dr. Scarbrough. “I knew it was truly meant to be when I found out that Dr. Chauhan was the program director. He had been such a wonderful advisor to me while I was a tech in the emergency department. And I looked forward to learning even more from him as a resident.” 

Dr. Scarbrough enrolled in SLU Hospital’s emergency medicine residencyprogram in 2009, becoming one of two first chief residents. For the next three years, she sharpened her medical skills, while working with an experienced team of physicians, nurses and medical staff. After graduating in 2012, she accepted a full-time position as an emergency medicine physician at Belleville Memorial Hospital’s emergency department. She also continues to work part-time in the emergency department at SLU Hospital. 

“Working in a community hospital like Belleville Memorial has provided me with a whole new perspective in emergency medicine,” says Dr. Scarbrough. “I regularly treat sick or injured children and am still adjusting to the emotional challenges that come with taking care of kids and supporting their parents.”

Although Dr. Scarbrough’s journey to become an emergency medicine physician has not been an easy one, she’s glad she pursued her dream. 

“Becoming a doctor was certainly harder than I thought it was going to be. There were different challenges – internal and external – that I didn’t see coming,” says Dr. Scarbrough. “Working in medicine – particularly emergency medicine – is tough, because it forces you to deal with your weaknesses on an ongoing basis. Regardless, this has been the most rewarding decision I’ve ever made. I learned so much during my residency and will continue learning well into my career.”