Patient Care

Words from the Wise: Saussy Editor’s Note: Jullette Saussy, MD, was one of 15 women invited to answer a survey to be included in an article on women who provide national leadership in EMS. (See„“Words from the Wise: Female Leaders Share their Perspectives,” March JEMS for 13 other leaders.) Although she initially wanted to participate, she was unable to do so when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. We interviewed her by telephone in her hospital room. Here’s what we asked and how she replied:

How did you get into EMS? Did any particular experience prepare you for this field?
I knew I wanted to be doctor since sixth grade, and becoming an EMT was the quickest way for me to get involved in medicine. The sight of blood used to make me sick, so as a freshman I shadowed an emergency department (ED) doctor. I became an EMT a year later (in 1984) and got my paramedic training at the University of South Alabama (finishing in 1986). I worked as a paramedic while going to college, and I took two years off before medical school to work for New Orleans EMS on the night shift. I went to Tulane for my undergraduate degree then to LSU for medical school. I did my internship and residency at Charity Hospital (in New Orleans). I’m still on staff there, although it’s been closed since Hurricane Katrina.

In December 2004, I took the job as New Orleans EMS (NOEMS) director and medical director. The department was in major financial trouble in terms. Deputy director Mark Rice and I got the equipment and agency back in line before Katrina hit, but we had to do that all again after Katrina — and do it in a trailer. We’re still working out of two single-wide trailers under the bridge near the convention center, although four of us have cubbies at city hall.

When did you know you would be making„EMS your career?„
After I started as an EMT. I really, really loved emergency medicine. I really enjoyed the autonomy. But I also thought of going into pediatrics. I had three kids — all girls — while I was in medical school, with twins between my third and fourth years. My 17-year-old is a junior in college and my 14-year-old twins are in ninth grade.

What are a few highlights of your career?

  • Metropolitan Municipalities EMS Medical Directors’ Michael„K. Copass Eagles Award, 2008
  • National Association of EMS Physicians’ Outstanding Contribution to EMS Award, 2007
  • Co-chair of the NAEMSP Preparedness Committee until September 2007
  • Chair of Louisiana State University’s Preshospital Trauma Committee
  • Medical director for New Orleans Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Preparedness„„

What is your proudest career accomplishment?
Probably putting this EMS system back together post Katrina and being able to stay and do so despite not wanting to do it some days. We were able to hire new people and grow our education program, and we now have special teams, (for example a SWAT team, a swift-water rescue team, a high-angle rescue and a bike team). We’re working again on our billing system and on finding a new home. My long relationship with the people I work with makes them like my family.

The [proudest] thing I’ve ever done was the evacuation from the convention center [after Katrina]. About seven paramedics and myself went into the crowd and triaged and evacuated 19,000-21,000 people with help of the military.

Your greatest disappointment?
My greatest disappointment is our lack of cohesiveness as a profession. Fire and police have it together and speak with one voice. We need a unified voice in EMS with a strong voice in Washington and a strong agenda. Until we can get that together we will continue to suffer as a profession. I think that if we, as EMS leaders, can just stay focused on the patients and what would be in their best interest, all else will fade away and we can move forward.

If you could accomplish just one more thing before you retire, what would it be?
I’d like to go to Washington, DC and work at the national level in EMS or disaster planning. But I don’t see myself leaving New Orleans EMS any time soon. I’m very lucky to get up every day and do what I love with people I like.

My goal in the next year is to get back into a clinical realm after my chemotherapy ends in June.

And for my service, I’d like to see it completely revenue supporting and back in a home and secure.„

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in a male-dominated field?
I know there’s a gender bias there; others make me aware of it, although I don’t feel it. I was raised without limitations. Because I’m a woman, I have to be more assertive and much more careful in how I say things. I must be more on point.

What advice do you have for other women who aspire to national EMS leadership?
You need a thick skin and to persevere. You’ve got to have a passion and be a jack-of-all-trades, to show up and be who you are. Know where you’re strong and know where you’re weak and have back up for your weak areas. You can’t be afraid to make a decision, to make a mistake. Stand up and be willing to try new things, to get it wrong and come back out there and try it again. Recognize adversity as an opportunity to build character and take advantage of those moments.

Did you have a mentor? If so, what was the most helpful thing s/he did or said?|
Edwardo Marvez-[Valls, MD,] who did emergency medicine at LSU and who recently died, was my mentor. From an EMS perspective, Paul Pepe has always been a mentor. Other mentors are [EMS medical directors] Tom Blackwell [in Charlotte, N.C.] David Persse in Houston and Ed Racht in Austin [Texas]. Bob Davis [a reporter with USA Today and former paramedic] has been a mentor for following your passion. We’ve got some amazing people in EMS.

What special qualities (if any) do women bring to EMS leadership?
Women bring to the field a level of compassion and empathy with both patients and employees and an ability to nurture and to see the other side of things. I think that’s a real plus. Women feel things at a deep level, which makes us powerful.

Do you have any suggestions for how the EMS community can increase the numbers of female EMS leaders?
We need to raise the bar for who becomes a paramedic; we need to focus on an education degree. Although were in a paramedic shortage, I don’t think short-term zero to hero programs are the answer.

We must mentor women, be approachable, assessable and encourage them to do it. About 25% of NOEMS employees are women, and four of my 11 administrators are women.

What do you enjoy doing in your off hours?
Spending time with my kids, my family and my friends. My three very strong-willed teenaged daughters — Katharine, Sarah and Elizabeth — and my family keep me going. They’re what make me get up in the morning.

I also like to run, to read, to travel and to needlepoint, although I haven’t done that in a long time.

What might people be surprised to know about you?
That I have insecurities and second-guess myself and have fears of the unknown. I enjoy my alone time.

What else would you like to say to a national EMS audience on the topic of women in this field and on women becoming leaders.
I really believe that certain people are born with leadership skills and they can choose to develop them and use them or not. We need [female] leaders, so you if have leadership skills, we need you to step up to the plate. EMS is a tough field and it takes a special kind of person do to that.

Women are social and need to support each other as woman leaders. It would be wonderful to have a women-in-EMS leadership forum.

Contact her at [email protected]