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MayX Snapshot: Emergency caregivers diagnose societal ills

Mark Pittman ’07 leads a discussion during The Emergency Room as a Microcosm of Society May Experience course in May 2023.

Last updated May 30, 2023

By Jerry Salley ’90

May Experience 2023
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The Emergency Department as a Microcosm of Society


Page Bridges ’08 and Mark Pittman ’07, emergency medicine physicians


By critically evaluating the patients, staff and care provided in the emergency department, students will gain insight into the current state of our society and identify areas for positive engagement.


A hospital’s emergency department is “one of the last places where everyone is equal, at least in theory,” said Page Bridges ’08.

“You might have a state senator next to a homeless man, and the person that gets seen first is the one who’s got the more acute problem,” said Bridges, an emergency medicine physician and director of the Integrated Practice of Medicine curriculum at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. “We take care of everyone, and that is kind of unique in society now.”

Bridges and her colleague Mark Pittman ’07, assistant program director for the Prisma Health Upstate Emergency Medicine Residency, have treated people from all walks of life in the ED and seen a wide range of the challenges they face, including social, economic and racial disparities.

“A lot of the problems of society end up at our doorstep, whether we want them to or not,” said Bridges.

Real-world ethical quandaries

The Furman graduates started having conversations with colleagues at The Institute for the Advancement of Community Health about the wide cross-section of problems they saw – lack of access to health care, gender and sexuality issues, the undocumented status of patients, mental health and substance use, among many others. An emergency department, they realized, would be a great lens through which students could examine many of those problems at once.

“It started off as just talking,” said Bridges, “and then all of a sudden, we had a class.”

During their May Experience class, lectures and discussions with experts from community organizations are enhanced when the students actually get into the ED, shadowing care providers and observing real-world cases in a clinical setting, said Pittman.

“The goal is for them to see and experience the real-world implications of what we talk about in class,” he said. “You can be idealistic all day long, and then suddenly you see that real scenario in front of you, and it’s messy, it’s nuanced, it’s difficult. I want them to see the quick decisions we have to make in the moment, but also some of the moral and ethical quandaries we think about for a long time.”

Part of the solution

Learning in a clinical setting prior to applying to medical school appealed to Kyria Santa ’24, a health sciences major and daughter of an emergency department nurse.

“I think this class will help me in the future by teaching me to treat my patients, regardless of my specialty, with empathy, have understanding, and respect their autonomy,” she said.

“I’ve been able to learn more about people’s points of view,” said Jasmin Vidal Jose ’24, a psychology major who also hopes to attend medical school. “Things such as familial issues, legal decisions or lack of resources can affect health care or health care access.”

The class is useful even for students who don’t plan a career in health care, said Pittman.

“We don’t want them all to come out and be doctors,” he said. “There are so many areas to impact positive change.”

“I hope they come out more open-minded about people who have walked different paths than they have,” said Bridges. “I almost hope they come out less sure of what they know, seeing the complications of the world, but seeing that there are people who want to help – and wanting to be part of the solution to what we see.”

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