I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was nine years old. I was fascinated by how the human body worked and asked for a Gray’s Anatomy textbook for my 10th birthday. In high school, I had a job at a hospital in Park Ridge running labs to and from the emergency department, and I became a bit of an ED groupie. It seemed like mayhem was always happening, and I was intrigued by all the activity. Back then, emergency medicine wasn’t a specialty like it is now, with its own residency programs and board certification. The field of emergency medicine was just being developed in the 1970s and was still a relatively new specialty when I graduated medical school in 1987.

I attended the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago and trained at the old Cook County Hospital, the University of Illinois Hospital and the West Side VA. After graduating from medical school, my wife and I had to decide where I should go for my residency. She is from Peoria, had her law degree and wanted to stay in Illinois, so I seriously looked at Peoria.

The emergency medicine program at OSF Saint Francis had started in 1982. When I interviewed for a residency position, I toured the old five-room emergency department on the backside of the main hospital facing the College of Nursing; it moved to the newly-constructed Gerlach addition shortly before I arrived. Having been born and raised in the Chicago area and trained in inner-city hospitals, I admit I was a bit concerned whether I would receive adequate training and exposure in a “rural” hospital.

I matched my first residency draw—and it was Peoria. I arrived in 1987 for a three-year residency, served as chief resident in 1990, and was then hired as an emergency department attending physician. I continue to work shifts in the ED because I think it’s important to stay connected to the patients we serve and the clinicians who provide care for them.

I like the activity, the energy and the curveballs that come daily in the ED. Every patient with abdominal pain isn’t the same—that’s the interesting part of emergency medicine. And my concern about Peoria being “too rural” was incorrect. OSF Saint Francis is the fourth-largest hospital in the state of Illinois, caring for patients who have the same severity and complexity of illness and require the same intensity of care as that provided by large, inner-city hospitals. Our ED sees 88,000 patients a year from over 17 counties. We have the capability to treat all types of patients, including pediatric, obstetric, trauma, medical, surgical, neurologic and more.

After serving as vice chairman of the emergency department for a decade, I was appointed vice president of quality and safety for OSF Saint Francis in September 2007 and began serving as the associate chief medical officer. I am honored and humbled to be appointed as Keith Steffen’s replacement, having moved into the role of president of OSF Saint Francis in late January. My emergency medicine training and experience have given me a critical skillset to bring to this position, as teamwork and collaboration are essential in providing excellent patient care in the ED.

Moving forward, the medical center as a whole has to create a value-added environment and provide patient-centered care while maintaining and controlling costs. Our quality standards are high, but we can—and must—do better. This cannot happen without teamwork and collaboration on the part of every employee at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

I am blessed to be surrounded by an excellent team of leaders and the continued guidance of my predecessor. But ultimately, I am blessed to work with an inspiring group of Sisters with a focused mission of serving with the greatest care and love to all who pass through our doors. iBi

Dr. Mike Cruz is the new president of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.