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Mission Critical

In emergency medicine, expect the unexpected.

Michael “Mike” Humphrey, BSPh ’84, learned this lesson as a pharmacy intern in the ER at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima, Ohio. One day, a beloved nurse and colleague came through the door suffering from severe traumatic injuries. Humphrey witnessed the ER team fight back their emotions and band together in a valiant attempt to save her life. Tragically, she died. But Humphrey has never forgotten her or the ER team’s heroic response. The experience changed the course of his life.

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“Right then and there,” he says, “I knew I wanted to become a physician.”

Twenty-eight years later, Humphrey oversees emergency services for approximately 120,000 patients each year at the same hospital system where he interned. As the vice president of emergency services and chief clinical officer at St. Rita’s, his responsibilities include a Level II trauma center, two emergency departments, three ambulatory care centers, occupational health services, ground-based EMS service and helicopter transport through Life Flight III.

The pressure cooker of emergency medicine brings out the best in Humphrey. He’s a compassionate caregiver with the exceptional ability to think on his feet and perform under pressure. He’s taken care of hundreds of critically ill and injured patients through the years. Although he’s worked largely in administration for the past five years, he still puts in more than 500 hours per year as an emergency physician. His heart remains on the front lines.

“Every time I see the helicopter land, I feel that tug,” he says. “I wish I could be out there helping to unload the patient.”

The son of a coal miner and a seamstress, Humphrey became the first in his family to go to college.

A close family friend, who was a pharmacist, encouraged him to consider pharmacy school. At ONU, says Humphrey, he underwent a metamorphosis and matured into an adult.

After finishing the five-year ONU pharmacy program in four years, Humphrey was accepted into the accelerated three-year, independent study MD program at Ohio State University. His pharmacy degree proved to be a tremendous asset. He not only breezed through the pharmacology courses, but also worked as a pharmacist part-time to pay for his medical school tuition. Upon completion of his residency in Dayton, Humphrey had the distinction of being the youngest practicing physician in the state of Ohio for several years.

In 1992, Humphrey began as an ER physician at St. Rita’s, taking on increasing levels of responsibility before assuming his current position. He’s played an instrumental role in the growth of the hospital’s emergency services, including the Level II trauma designation obtained in 1998. Since those early years, the emergency department more than doubled the number of patients served and added multiple advanced services in critical care.

Humphrey also championed the addition of the St. Rita’s Life Flight III helicopter in Bluffton, Ohio, which serves local hospitals and patients in a 13-county region. He remains active with the program as its medical director and flight physician. Life Flight III departs on more than 500 missions each year, transporting patients between hospitals and providing rapid transport of victims from accident scenes. Before Life Flight III, it could take up to an hour for air transport to arrive from Toledo, Columbus, Dayton or Fort Wayne. In critical emergency situations, every second counts.

“We’ve improved our clinical outcomes and absolutely saved lives,” says Humphrey.

Providing exceptional care is Humphrey’s No. 1 priority. He believes exceptional care means personable care. Even simple acts, like touching a patient’s shoulder or holding their hand, can put them at ease, he explains. “There is so much fear and uncertainty when you are a patient, especially in an emergency situation. The power of touch in medicine is incredible.”

Humphrey teaches a popular course in emergency medicine for fifth- and sixth-year pharmacy students each spring at Ohio Northern. As part of the course, students shadow an ER physician and spend a day with Life Flight III. Humphrey hopes the course inspires some students to further their career path in emergency medicine or to become an EMT first responder in their community.

In his free time, Humphrey unwinds at his horse ranch near Sydney, Ohio, with his wife of 23 years, Lori, and their two sons, Ian and Jaden. “Working on the ranch provides a wonderful balance to the stress and tension of my work. Nine times out of 10, if I’m not in scrubs, I’m in coveralls,” he says, with a laugh.

“That’s good medicine, too!”