Category: Children's Health, Health Magazine

Title:What’s in my white coat? Derek “Ricky” Altema, MD (NHS’15)

Author: Interview by Lauren Wolkoff
Date Published: November 8, 2021

Derek “Ricky” Altema, MD (NHS’15), who received his bachelor’s degree in human science at Georgetown and his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine, is a second-year emergency medicine resident in the University of Chicago Emergency Medicine program.

I don’t actually wear a white coat, so it’s more about what’s in my fleece or backpack. A lot of my colleagues in emergency medicine do the same, and usually just wear scrubs.

  1. I pull out the same two bottles every day: a bottle of water, which I never manage to finish because it’s so busy, and a caffeine source. In a bustling emergency department and trauma center, you’ve got to keep the tank full. A typical shift is 8 to 12 hours, and can be very draining. Of course a Tuesday afternoon is not going to be the same as a Saturday night, and that’s especially true in my hospital with a sick patient population and a good deal of penetrating trauma.
  2. I’ve generally got something in my bag for a mid-shift snack, like an Uncrustable or some gummy bears.
  3. I keep my pink highlighter, along with a book such as Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine Manual. There’s tons of foundational knowledge in there. If I have any down time on a shift, I’ll try to reference it as a way of reviewing and learning from my patients.
  4. In addition to my glasses, I always have my iPhone nearby, especially the Notes app where I jot down quick learning points and UpToDate (a collection of medical and patient information).
  5. If I feel like it might be a lighter day, sometimes I’ll bring my laptop to knock out some scheduling and emails. I’ve also been getting involved in other initiatives, including a research project working with our orthopedics department to enhance our familiarity with managing musculoskeletal issues. I’ve also been doing some community service with an attending physician from the South Side of Chicago through the MedCEEP (Medical Careers Exposure and Emergency Preparedness) program, which helps expose local high school students to careers in medicine.
  6. I always have my AirPods. I try to walk in with a little playlist going to get me in the zone. The emergency department is a hectic and noisy place, so I like to play music on-shift to help keep me grounded.
Photos: Courtesy Ricky Altema


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