By Steven Blackburn / Photography by STAN GODLEWSKI
It is often said that to work in an emergency department, you must be adaptable, quick on your feet and agile, able to care for any person who arrives, regardless of age or ailment. Jennifer Martin, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, embodies that adaptability. She went from being a collegiate swimmer to a breast cancer research assistant to a medical student in New York City before finding her way to Connecticut, where she now leads a busy emergency department while raising a family.
Growing up in Westfield, Mass., Dr. Martin was a competitive swimmer and decided to continue the sport in college. She was recruited by Fordham University in the Bronx, where she was a distance swimmer. She represented the Rams in Atlantic 10 Conference championship competition all four years as an undergraduate majoring in biology.
Following her graduation from Fordham, Dr. Martin took a job as a research assistant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the Department of Surgery. While doing clinical research on breast cancer, she worked with several female breast surgeons who showed her that leadership in medicine could go hand-in-hand with raising a family. “A work-life balance has always been a priority, and it was this experience that solidified that this was achievable with a career in medicine,” said Dr. Martin.
With a desire to remain in New York City, she chose to attend medical school at SUNY Downstate in central Brooklyn. While rotating through the New York City public hospital system, she developed a love for emergency medicine. Throughout Dr. Martin’s time in New York, she realized she wanted to remain in the city for residency. During her fourth year of residency at Kings County Hospital, she married another SUNY Downstate graduate. While completing her fellowship, she and her husband welcomed their first child into their family. Soon after, Dr. Martin and her husband made the decision to leave New York City to raise their family.
“With a young family, I wanted to move closer to my parents, and my brother already lived in Rocky Hill, Conn., so that left us really looking in the Hartford or Springfield areas,” Dr. Martin recalled. “Growing up in close to Connecticut, I always thought that the Farmington Valley would be a wonderful place to settle down. We decided on the Hartford area primarily since the city offered us both the opportunity to find fulfilling careers while raising our family in the community.”
Treating underserved communities
While in medical school and her residency, Saint Francis had always been on her radar and drew her attention. Eventually, the hospital had a position open, and she leaped at the chance, joining as a staff clinician in 2012. She found familiarity and a place to fulfill her passion for caring for the underserved, very similar to her work in Brooklyn. “The communities surrounding both hospitals are an underserved population with minimal access to care and health literacy,” Dr. Martin said. “I have always enjoyed taking care of those most in need.”
The ability to interact directly with patients in their most challenging times is one of the main reasons she chose to pursue emergency medicine. As Dr. Martin noted, emergency medicine allows her to serve a wide range of people from all ends of the age and acuity spectrum.
“I enjoy that diversity, the ebbs and flows, where I’m sometimes taking care of children, adults or the elderly,” she said. “We may see a very ill patient and spend hours actively resuscitating them to save their life, and other days we are having simple conversations about fall repercussions and preventing infection from lacerations. This balance keeps me energized about each shift and patient encounter.”
Serving the hospital in different capacities
This desire to expedite care and treatment would become a theme in her career as Dr. Martin’s role continued to expand. The first of many times her role evolved was when the University of Connecticut’s residency program became a primary rotating site at Saint Francis, which afforded staff the opportunity to participate in academic appointments. Dr. Martin was able to use the skills she gained during her point of care ultrasound fellowship at St. Luke’s Roosevelt by serving as an integral part of Saint Francis’ residency with bedside ultrasound.
“I always wanted to remain active in residency education,” Dr. Martin commented. “As a resident, I realized that ultrasound sometimes provides you with answers faster than traditional imaging, which can decrease the patient’s time in the emergency department so they can get back to their lives sooner. Having the opportunity to grow our department’s point of care ultrasound program while being part of the team that educates our residents remains one of my greatest career joys!”
Several years later, Dr. Martin was asked to be the assistant director of the Emergency Department. In this role, she served as a liaison between department staff and leadership, while helping to improve practices and guidelines to streamline patient care. In 2021, she transitioned once again, but this time to a job that was never on her radar—interim chief medical officer.
“It was admittedly overwhelming at first, but with the support of the team, my family and friends, it became a job I enjoyed and was able to balance with my family life,” said Dr. Martin. “I served during several COVID-19 surges, ensuring our patients continued to have access to care, and facilitated COVID-19 booster clinics for our colleagues, helping to protect their health. I worked with multiple service lines to ensure our patients were receiving the care they needed while also accepting transfers of critically ill patients requiring advanced care.”
“Each new role has allowed me to gain new perspectives I’ve ultimately brought back to the Emergency Department,” she further explained. “Leadership is challenging, and the pandemic has certainly compounded that. I am grateful for the women who have led before me. I have no doubt their path was more difficult than mine. Recognizing your actions and decisions as a leader affects both patients and colleagues is something I remain cognizant of every day.”
Playing major roles in expediting care
After serving as the interim chief medical officer for eight months, Dr. Martin returned to the Emergency Department as department chair. This position includes more responsibilities than her previous role, but she still gets the chance to practice as a staff physician several days a week, seeing the diverse patient population she has always enjoyed. As chair of the Emergency Department, she is also involved in developing policies and procedures, recently allowing her to expand the role of point-of-care ultrasound in the Emergency Department.
Additionally, Dr. Martin, along with her team, updated a process to improve the speed at which patients receive a CT scan when they come to the emergency department showing signs of a stroke. “We now meet the patient right at the CT scanner on the EMS stretcher, which facilitates a timelier CT scan. Minutes shaved off the initial assessment are vital to reperfusion of the brain. Working closely with the stroke team, we can rapidly get the appropriate patients ‘clot busting’ medication or off with the neurointerventionalist to have a thrombectomy performed. During this procedure, the doctor effectively removes the clot from the vessel in the brain. We use the adage ‘time is brain,’ so every second really does matter. Our collaborative teams work to maximize the likelihood of a good outcome,” she said.
In May, Saint Francis earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® and the American Stroke Association’s Heart-Check mark for Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center, recognizing the hospital’s commitment to providing the highest quality of care for stroke patients.
Overseeing success: Trauma, heart attack and stroke specialty care
In 2018, Dr. Martin was part of the leadership team that helped Saint Francis achieve Level I Trauma Center status and the hospital has maintained that certification. This means that 24/7/365, Saint Francis is ready to receive all levels of trauma patients with certified trauma surgeons working in-house to immediately care for and resuscitate all degrees of injury. It also ensures that specialists are available when needed within a very short time.
“When we think of trauma, whether that’s a stroke or heart attack, spinal cord injury, or another severe injury, these are things that require very timely intervention,” Dr. Martin explained. “In the Emergency Department, we collaborate as partners with the trauma team, to ensure injured patients get the specialized care they need in that moment and beyond.”
As a receiving center for ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) patients, EMS transmits an electrocardiogram (EKG) reading directly to the Saint Francis Emergency Department from the field. The onsite emergency medicine physician immediately analyzes the EKG and ensures that a cardiologist is on-site when the ambulance arrives to provide definitive care to the patient. The hospital has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a high-performing hospital for both heart attack and stroke, along with seven other specialties, and has received awards from the American Heart Association for its care of stroke and STEMI patients.
Caring for the whole person
For patients with non-life or limb-threatening issues, Saint Francis uses InQuicker, a system that allows patients to schedule an appointment so physicians in the Emergency Department can immediately address the patient once they arrive. “It’s a way for us to accommodate people’s busy schedules and treat their problems no matter how small,” said Dr. Martin about InQuicker. “We have someone on staff from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. who reviews the appointments made virtually, and if it isn’t appropriate to wait, they will call the patient and encourage they come immediately for evaluation.”
In addition, the Emergency Department employs three complex care coordinators who follow up with patients after their visit to connect about their experience, help with medications, wound care or other after-visit care, and answer any questions they may have. Other staff members connect patients who don’t have a primary care physician to in-person or telehealth professionals.
“More than one third of patients who come through our Emergency Department don’t have a primary care physician,” said Dr. Martin. “This is a great opportunity to ensure they get the follow-up care they need, and we want to be sure we help them through that process. Our complex care team and discharge navigators are examples of how we reach our arms around the community.”
Leading the Emergency Department of the hospital has been a full circle moment for Dr. Martin, with many twists and turns. “Having been at Saint Francis for over 10 years, I have made several unexpected jumps and transitions, with each opportunity offering unique challenges and lessons to learn. It has been humbling to engage more with colleagues, push my limits, and be there for the community I’m privileged to care for each day. At Saint Francis, we are a team that comes together each day for every patient who walks through our front door,” she said.
Steven Blackburn is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of journalism experience in various fields, including U.S. education and Connecticut community interest stories. He lives in Winsted.
Stan Godlewski is an editorial, corporate and healthcare photographer based in Connecticut and working primarily between Boston and New York City.