Karen Santucci, MD: A passion for emergency care

January 11, 2010

Karen Santucci, MD, has two speeds: She’s either constantly on the go or sleeping. As medical director and section chief of pediatric emergency medicine, Dr. Santucci is accustomed to juggling activities that include treating patients, mentoring students, residents and fellows, and fulfilling her administrative duties. While she admits that the fast-paced environment of the emergency department can be overwhelming at times, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I function better when I’m operating at full capacity or beyond,” she said.

Dr. Santucci and her colleagues handle a wide variety of illnesses in the emergency department (ED), all of which fall into one of three categories: medical, surgical/trauma and behavioral health.

Asthma is at the top of the list for medical emergencies, due to the hospital’s inner city location. Dr. Santucci also sees lots of appendicitis and trauma—Yale-New Haven Hospital is a level one trauma center – as well as an increasing amount of depression, despite the availability of other resources to handle this issue in the community. “A lot of what we do is recognize diseases and disorders, and rapidly get patients the assistance they need,” she said.

Two to three times a week, Dr. Santucci puts in a full day at her desk before working a shift from 4 p.m. to midnight, when the ED is busiest. A constant influx of patients keeps her in a state of perpetual motion. She also spends a lot of time working with students, residents and fellows (she started Yale’s pediatric emergency medicine fellowship in 2000). “That’s wonderful for us because we’re shaping and molding these young doctors to become pediatric emergency physicians,” she said.

Her duties include working overnight about twice each month. “I love it because it’s just you and the patient, and it’s what you’re trained to do,” she said. “It’s pure medicine without any of the red tape or administrative stuff.” ED staff generally work anywhere from three to six overnights a month, depending on their interest and age group; those over 50 years old are exempt because it’s too difficult to bounce back after being up all night, especially when they have to function the next morning.

Dr. Santucci and her team have had their share of dramatic interventions over the years, cases in which they’ve saved children from severe problems such as septic shock or severe dehydration. But sometimes even a seemingly mundane task can have a lasting effect. Recently a woman who had worked in the ED stopped Dr. Santucci on the street to thank her for treating her infant daughter. Five years earlier, the woman had requested her help when her baby was admitted to the hospital and medical staff were unable to place an IV line to administer antibiotics. Dr. Santucci got the line in on the first try. “It was a minor thing for me but it was a major thing for her,” she said.

More about Dr. Santucci

Name: Karen Santucci, MD

Title: Associate Professor of Pediatrics; Medical Director and Section Chief, Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Area of expertise: Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Place of birth: New York

Age: 48

College: College of Mount Saint Vincent

Med School: SUNY Downstate College of Medicine

Training: Residency and Chief Residency in pediatrics at SUNY Downstate; Fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Hasbro Children’s Hospital/Brown Medical School

Family: Husband; Dominic Roca, MD. Children; Vito, 14, Bobbi, 9

What is most challenging to you in academic medicine? Balancing a career, a long commute, and being a mother of two children in school.

What is most rewarding? Recognizing that every day we have an opportunity!

What do you like most about your practice? The patients, all the members of our section and the opportunity to grow daily and make the children’s ED and hospital better.

Personal interests or pastimes? Time with family, painting, dollar stores

Last book read: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

What would you do to improve our clinical environment if you had a magic wand? I would like to create an incentive program for pediatric staff that would be used to reimburse training opportunities, such as traveling to and attending educational conferences. I would also create ample clinical, conference and office space for patients, families and staff.

Submitted by Mark Santore on January 09, 2014