By: Deb Cantrell
Being a doctor is her day job — or night job, depending on her shift. At 27, Amy Faith Ho has done TEDx Talks (TED-like events run by independent organizers); written for numerous publications like Forbes, Chicago Tribune and The Motley Fool; and even appeared on ER-themed reality shows for TLC. But her heart is at John Peter Smith Hospital, where she’s part of the clinical faculty as associate medical director and administrative fellow in emergency medicine.
Let’s get to know Dr. Ho.
Q. So, you work in medicine, but you also do quite a bit of writing and public speaking. Have you always been a humanities buff on the side?
A. In medicine, we have to confront our own notions of the world through the experiences of our patients. During my clinical rotations in medical school, I found myself exposed to real-world situations that opened my eyes and challenged my beliefs. I started writing as a way to give these matters perspective.
Since then, I’ve really grown to appreciate what a unique place the emergency department is. This is one of the few places in society governed by a sense of compassion and humanity, not appearance, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This is particularly evident at a county hospital: I walk into work, and I take care of the homeless person, who is roomed next to the business executive, who is roomed next to the African refugee, who is roomed next to the high school football player. It says something really beautiful about society that we care for all of these patients, regardless of their background or status. I think this is an incredibly important and inspiring message to spread, and that’s my motivation for sharing it in the various forms of humanities.
Q. You’ve also done some acting in TLC’s “Sex Sent Me to the ER” and “Untold Stories of the ER.” First off, how did you get “discovered”?
A. I never intended to get “discovered,” at least, not for acting. Writing was always my first art, and as my pieces garnered a broader readership and wider exposure, I began receiving invitations for interviews. This evolved into giving speeches at national conferences, doing a few TEDx talks, and being featured in podcasts, magazine spreads and TV interviews.
Finding the delicate balance between entertainment and reality is an art form, and I was impressed by how “Untold Stories” portrayed the emergency room. By that time, I’d garnered enough experience in front of cameras that on a whim, I applied to be in an episode. I suppose the first episode went well, because they asked me back for future ones after that.
Q. What happened when you got on set?
A. My time on set generally lasted a few days. Usually on the first day, you do a read-through with the rest of the cast, give final medical approval on “art” like X-rays and EKGs they’re going to use, walk the set to familiarize yourself, and go over other details like costume. They steam your scrubs for you, which I can assure you no one does in real life.
Part of these shows is shot in an interview format, so you sit 1-to-1 with the producer asking you questions. The rest of the filming process is the actual recreation of the case, and that’s a long, 12-plus hour day of repeating scenes in various camera angles, taking still photos for promotional materials, and filming commercial break transitions. Thankfully, this is regularly interrupted by the most important person on set, “Crafty,” who is someone from “Craft Services” that comes around with a tasty buffet of snacks and drinks.
Q. Do you ever get the jitters when you’re on set? What keeps you calm?
A. When I’m on set filming, if I forget a line, I just pause and call out, “Line!” and someone yells it out for me. We don’t have this kind of luxury in the emergency department. If you forget your next “line,” you better hope you remember it fast.
While certain tough cases will still make me sweat a bit, as an emergency doctor, I’m trained to handle any medical situation that I’m faced with in very high-pressure and consequential scenarios. Outside of the hospital doors, I don’t really get jitters, because nothing can compare to life on shift.
Q. What inspired you to become a doctor?
A. I’ve always been interested in social policy — how people with the fewest resources paradoxically end up with the highest costs, and most needs struck me as a great social injustice of health care in the United States. Our system is geared toward episodic interventions rather than promoting health early and maintaining it. This is particularly true for the uninsured, who end up only seeking care when there are true emergencies that they can’t delay.
I wanted to work on this issue and went to medical school as a sort of “reconnaissance” mission to understand how the system works from the inside. To my surprise, I fell in love with patient care in the emergency department and ended up splitting my time clinically and politically/administratively, so I could touch patients on an individual level when I work shifts, but also affect them on a broader population health level through policy and administrative processes.
Q. What would you say is the biggest social issue right now in the medical field?
A. The fascinating thing about the medical field is that it is inextricably linked to many seemingly unrelated social and political issues. The emergency department is where you witness the trickle-down effects of policies that have gone awry. Immigration reform creates issues with trust when we care for undocumented migrants. Gun violence inevitably means gunshot victims in our trauma bays. State funding bills on mental health, homeless shelters and rehabs sadly mean an influx of patients to the emergency department who used to get services elsewhere. All of these are part of the bigger issue of social inequity.
Q. When you’re not in the hospital — or writing or speaking or acting — what are you doing?
A. As a resident, I was routinely churning through 80-plus hour work weeks. Now as a young attending, I have more free time than I’ve had for over a decade. Recently, I started my master’s in public health to circle back to the reasons I went into medicine in the first place. I also enjoy traveling, fitness (I’m into biking, weightlifting and yoga right now) and cooking. I’m a newlywed, so I’ve been enjoying my husband too.
1. Scrub jacket. “Scrub jackets are the modern ‘white coat.’ In my world, white coats don’t stay white, and scrub jackets are machine washable.”
2. Water bottle. “Extra-venous hydration can be just as good as intravenous hydration.”
3. Post-it Notes. “We write ‘post-it-pearls’ to teach students and residents. They’re pearls of medical knowledge and teaching points based on the actual patients we are seeing.”
4. Fun socks. “Scrubs don’t offer a lot of fashion, so fun socks are my piece of flair.”
5. Scalpel. “You never know when you need one, and when you do, you really need it. I usually keep an extra one in my back pocket [literally].”
6. Stethoscope. “Bread and butter.”
7. Leatherman Raptor. “The Swiss Army knife of the emergency physician. The Raptor can cut anything — clothes, bandages or even metal.”
By: Deb Cantrell