When Kelly Bookman was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, the answer was easy – a doctor. She loved math and science, and lined her room with her dad’s medical books. The answer to the follow-up question, “What kind of doctor?” came pretty easily, too.
“My dad told me, ‘Make sure you check all your options before making a decision. There’s so much you can do as a doctor. Experience all the types of medicine,’” said Kelly. “The second I walked through the doors of the emergency department on my first rotation, it clicked with me.
“These were my people,” she continued. “After my first rotation, I always ended up migrating back to the emergency department. I think it’s because emergency medicine is completely patient-centered and patient-focused, regardless of why a patient comes in. My dad taught me to think, ‘What’s the best thing for the patient in front of you right now?’ ”
That’s pretty fitting, since Kelly’s dad, Dr. Larry Bookman, was a pioneer in developing emergency medicine.
Grad school or war?
In college, Larry didn’t have a particular desire to go into medicine. He didn’t have any family members in medicine. But that was during the Vietnam War, and going to grad school was important.
“I had interests in biology and other sciences, and at the end of college, I had to make a decision,” he said. “Should I go to med school or should I go to war? Med school seemed like a good mix of science and people, so that’s what I did.”
Upon completion of medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Larry was drafted and served as a Naval flight surgeon. When he returned to the States, he pursued an emergency medicine residency.
“I was slated to go with internal medicine when I got home,” recalled Larry, “but emergency medicine got hold of me. It was so obvious that there was a need to develop the specialty.”
Larry applied for and was accepted into the first emergency medicine residency class at Denver General Hospital, now Denver Health.
A new frontier and the next generation
Larry eventually made his way to Steamboat Springs and Routt Memorial Hospital, and with him came a more formalized approach to emergency medicine.
“There was a clear opportunity to create an emergency management system in a small setting with big city models,” he said. “I could have gone into academics or administration, but this sort of thing suited me more. There was a need to develop this specialty, which was both fun and challenging at the same time.”
“There was no 911 system in Steamboat Springs and only EMTs, if that,” added Kelly, recalling details she’s heard many times. “Dad helped bring the emergency medicine voice to the hospital’s administration.”
Larry continued practicing medicine in Steamboat Springs, while moonlighting at Denver General Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital or Swedish Medical Center from time to time to keep his skills up to par. Meanwhile, Kelly was getting her feet wet in the world of medicine. She completed medical school at University of Colorado Hospital, followed by residency in Chicago at Cook County Health and Hospitals System.
On an emergency department rotation during medical school, Larry happened to be Kelly’s attending physician.
“I don’t remember if that was good or bad, but I ended up learning a few things,” said Kelly. “And he bought pizza.”
“It must have been a tough night,” joked Larry.
Following residency, Kelly set her sights on the next step of her career.
Kelly came back to the Front Range right after residency and worked at a community hospital in Denver. “I might have used my dad’s influence to get a foot in the door back in the Denver region,” she said coyly, “but it paid off. Ultimately, I knew academic medicine was where I wanted to be, so I asked Dr. Ben Honigman, then chair of University of Colorado Hospital and an accomplished emergency medicine professor, who I knew from when my father was in residency, if I could do a few shifts. After three months of part-time shifts, I was offered a full-time position.”
Medicine then and now
Larry continued his career at Routt Memorial Hospital as it transitioned to Yampa Valley Medical Center (YVMC), serving as director of emergency medicine and then as the hospital’s chief medical officer before his retirement in 2015.
Kelly is currently serving as medical director and associate professor for the Department of Emergency Medicine at University of Colorado’s School of Medicine. She also serves as the senior medical director for the UCHealth Emergency Medicine Service Line, and is the interim chief medical officer for UCHealth Broomfield and Grandview Hospitals.
Now that YVMC is part of the UCHealth family, it’s a bit of a full circle with emergency medicine for the doctors Bookman.
“Emergency medicine is a bonafide specialty now,” said Larry. “Science has been applied to it to allow emergency management to develop into what it is today.”
“You had to make tough decisions sometimes,” he continued, thinking to his early days in Steamboat. “In the rural setting, we had to care for the patient best we could, and then it was a big deal to send the patient off (to a larger hospital). It wasn’t an easy thing to do. You didn’t have the degree of back-up you have now with trauma centers. Patients have that now, though and that’s good.”
“My dad got the opportunity to create an EMS system where there was none, that’s an opportunity I’ll never get,” said Kelly. “Today, we train residents so they can have a sustainable life in emergency medicine while we teach them lifesaving skills and techniques. We’re also teaching them to push the delivery of medicine to new heights.”
Kelly said innovations in the realm of digital health and decision support bring new options to the delivery of health care. Thanks to technology advancements, information can be delivered to providers right at the point of care.
As much as things have changed and continue to advance, Larry holds tight to one thing about emergency medicine.
“We take care of the patients, regardless,” he said. “The volumes might be different between now and when I first came to Steamboat and they’re different between rural and urban settings, but aside from all that, emergency medicine is emergency medicine.”