Late night in the E.R., UC Irvine medical student Eric Silman is on duty at an Oakland hospital when paramedics rush in with four members of rival gangs, all bleeding from gunshot wounds. Two of the patients die in front of Silman. The emergency room is thick with police, in case the gangs decide to continue their gunfight at the hospital.
“After my shift, I was scared to walk home because the shootings took place three blocks away from the hospital,” Silman recalls. “I got a ride with the cops.”
Occasionally dangerous but rarely dull, working in an E.R. is a challenging first job for a medical student. For Silman, though, it’s the perfect opportunity. He thrives on dealing with “anything that can come at me.”
“I’ve stitched fingers back on patients’ hands while standing in a hallway,” he says. “I’ve done CPR, trying to save someone’s life. I’ve seen diseases gone wild and victims of violence. You see the widest range of problems in an E.R.”
Silman recently received the American College of Emergency Physicians’ National Outstanding Medical Student Award. He was nominated by the UC Irvine Department of Emergency Medicine for his academic performance, compassionate patient care and community service, particularly his work with the UC Irvine School of Medicine Emergency Medicine Interest Group, for those who want to become emergency medicine physicians.
“Eric’s a brilliant kid and fun to work with, but the thing that makes him really special is what he’s done for his fellow medical students and the community through the Emergency Medicine Interest group. He never stops giving and helping others,” says Shahram Lotfipour, associate clinical professor of emergency medicine and assistant dean of clinical science education. “He’s a great mentor.”
As the group’s co-president, Silman helped organize community outreach events such as a safety fair he started two years ago at The Block in Orange. The group distributed more than 150 bicycle helmets as well as first-aid kits. This spring, he helped stage a DUI prevention program at Santa Ana High School that included a mock crash site and group discussions with 50 volunteers from the medical school.
In 2007, Silman participated in the biennial Emergency Medicine Student Symposium, the only student-to-student emergency medicine meeting in the country, which drew more than 150 participants from the western U.S. Silman also worked with student volunteers for the UCI Flying Samaritans in Baja and Clínica Cariño in Santa Ana, providing healthcare to the needy.
Informally, he’s mentored about 30 future doctors, encouraging them to pursue careers in emergency medicine.
“I like to talk and share my experience,” Silman says. “I’m like an E.R. cheerleader.”
His message is serious.
“Emergency medicine is a relatively new specialty. It’s only been around about 20 years, so there’s an opportunity to make a real difference in the field,” he says. “Plus, we treat everyone. We don’t care who they are or how much money they have or whether they have insurance.”
There’s another perk to working the E.R., he says: “You can work in your pajamas.”
Silman, who favors jeans and rubber-toed tennis shoes, dresses more like a guy in a rock band – which he is. He plays drums for The Irvine Fever, a band of UCI medical students who play local bars, talent shows and lecture halls.
“It’s better than studying,” he jokes.
He’s done plenty of that, too. He received his bachelor’s in biological sciences from UCI in 2002. During his third year of medical school, he was named to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society – an honor typically bestowed on fourth-year students. He recently received the Medical Student Academic Excellence Award from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. After graduating from the School of Medicine this June, he’s heading to UC San Francisco as one of the pioneering residents in its emergency medicine program. He hopes to work at a UC medical center so he can teach as well as see patients.
“I want to combine my love of science and service, and do good for other people,” he says.