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Five Questions With: Emily Nichols, MD, of New Orleans EMS

New Orleans EMS’ new director and medical director, Emily Nichols, MD, came to her position in May with nearly a decade’s experience in emergency medicine, most recently as an ER physician for the area’s Ochsner Health System. Her tenure began amid political controversy surrounding Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell’s unexpected replacement of Nichols’ predecessor, Jeffrey Elder, MD (about which Elder and several NOEMS leaders have declined comment), but Nichols is attacking the job with an enthusiasm to build on the good work already being done. 

EMS World: What has you most excited about your new role as medical director?

Nichols: I’m really excited to be a part of this New Orleans EMS team, and I’m looking forward to working beside my team—those who are in the field every day providing care and serving the community, ensuring we continue to do it right and recognizing where we can do it better. There are always opportunities for improvement, and we look forward to becoming more excellent every day.

What goals are you looking to accomplish?

We have an excellent team that’s already providing state-of-the-art care. My goals are to continue to cultivate that and just to ensure we continue to attract, educate, and retain top providers like we already are.

We have started to make plans. A good leader or public health provider knows you should start with a needs assessment of your space. I’m doing that, and I’m talking with members of our team at every level, and from that we will determine what changes need to be made moving forward.

One thing we already have is very strong and growing QA and QI program. We’ve been participating in the national CARES (Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival) program, we’ve been expanding those programs, and I want to continue to do that.

What kinds of challenges do you anticipate acclimating to your new position?

Overall there haven’t been any major roadblocks. I’ve been very fortunate. Whenever you’re a new leader, the challenge is introducing yourself and your vision in a way that complements the good work already being done. I think a good way to handle that is by being transparent and available. The EMS Week celebrations gave me a lot of great opportunities to meet people in a short period of time. I’ve been talking with multiple members of my team and taking the feedback seriously, and I plan to consider all of these factors as I make conscientious change. 

When the opportunity arose for you to take on this role, what differences between your former position as an ER physician and new position as medical director were you looking forward to most?

This position matches the trajectory I’ve taken with my training in life. While working in the ED and during my training in emergency medicine, I’ve worked in the field beside paramedics, EMTs, and flight nurses, and I’ve conducted interhospital transfers as a physician throughout my training. So this is all fitting. While in my residency, I managed and was an administrator for more than 60 physicians. I worked in a hospital that had a catchment area of 2.6 million, so anyone who knows me understands it’s not a surprising transition to be in this role. 

In the past I’ve been part of relief efforts for several weeks in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake and received citations from the state of New York for the care I provided. So this is a nice change but not surprising to anyone who knows me well.

Do you plan on keeping or changing any of Dr. Elder’s previous practices or policies within the department?

I think that’s yet to be determined. I’ve been in the position roughly 3½ weeks, so we’re still looking at all the processes. Will there be change? Quite possibly, but we want to recognize what’s already working and what doesn’t need to be fixed and then move on from there.

When I met with Dr. Elder, he was very kind and very supportive of allowing me a smooth transition and he continues to be an excellent resource as a local emergency physician. It’s been nothing but good things in my experiences with him.

Valerie Amato is assistant editor for EMS World. 


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