Dr. Joshua Lynch knew he would practice medicine from a young age. In 2001 he volunteered for the East Amherst Fire Department, and then he worked as an emergency medical technician for Rural Metro WNY. In 2008, Lynch graduated from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, Fla., before moving back home to Western New York to complete a three-year residency at the University at Buffalo Department of Emergency Medicine.
At age 30, Lynch is director of pre-hospital care/EMS at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. He serves as medical director for volunteer fire departments in Clarence and Newstead – plus a few in Amherst. As one of the medical directors for Mercy Flight Western New York, he is also a flight physician. Lynch lives in Amherst with his wife, Michele, and daughter, Khloe.
People Talk: What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
Joshua Lynch: I think I’m there now. I never thought at 30 I’d be board-certified in emergency medicine, medical director for Mercy Flight and working at one of the busiest community hospitals in the Northtowns. It blows my mind to be married with a baby. This was my long-term career goal, and here I am. So I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen.
PT: You are driven.
JL: Intense would be the word, I think, if you asked some of the nurses I work with.
PT: What prompted your career path?
JL: I wish I could show you a picture of me when I was 3, with a Fisher-Price doctor’s kit. I never wanted to do anything else. I consider myself lucky, because I still have friends who have no idea what they want to do.
PT: Why did you choose osteopathic medicine?
JL: I grew up living next to two [doctors of osteopathic medicine], and I always thought that meant primary care or holistic medicine. One was a pediatrician and the other a nephrologist. The best way to define a DO is a combination of MD, physical therapist and chiropractor. We can do musculoskeletal manipulation, minor surgery, chest tubes, intubation.
Let’s say you come in with a migraine headache; I can give you medicine to fix the headache, and I can give you a CT scan to make sure you’re not bleeding. But while the medicine is working, I can manipulate the spine and the muscles of your neck to help you feel better right away.
PT: Do DOs get respect?
JL: I’ve never experienced discrimination. In generations past, that was a huge deal. You weren’t allowed to work in certain hospitals or states.
PT: What makes in-flight medical care a challenge?
JL: In the emergency room, I have three nurses, an X-ray tech, respiratory tech, a secretary – and all the tools I could possibly want. If something goes wrong, I reach for the next backup device, call anesthesia or cardiology or whatever. In a helicopter, it’s me and the paramedic. We don’t see where we’re going. We may not know when we’ll get to the hospital. The pilot may have to turn the helicopter sideways to avoid a bird while I’m trying to start an IV.
PT: How often does weather ground you?
JL: It’s hit or miss in Buffalo. Oftentimes we’ll have to fly around a storm or a cloud pattern to get somewhere, or occasionally we’ll have to land short, get in an ambulance and continue to drive if weather blows in really fast.
PT: What about the uninsured flight patient?
JL: Mercy Flight does not send patients to collections. We absorb about $850 per flight. We work with the patients to set up payment plans, but we’re not going to ruin someone’s life because they had an accident.
PT: What intrigues you about this job?
JL: The unpredictability. That’s why my full-time job is an emergency medical doctor in the ER. I’m certainly not handed a schedule. Add a helicopter, where your resources are minimal. About half our business is picking up patients from community hospitals to bring them to the city. You’re wearing a helmet, so you can’t hear your partner unless you talk on a radio.
PT: What percentage of your time are you on call?
JL: I’m on telephone call for Mercy Flight every other week. I’m also the medical director for Genesee Mercy EMS, a commercial ambulance service that covers all of Genesee County. I’m also on call for Erie County’s Specialized Medical Assistance Response Team (SMART) for school bus accidents, hostage situations.
PT: What is your most valuable tool?
JL: My level-headedness. I don’t get excited or worked up.
PT: On the job, you perform well under pressure, but what about at home?
JL: I am the best decision maker at work, and the worst decision maker at home. I can treat a heart attack at 3 in the morning after working 12 hours, but ask my wife, I cannot tell her what to do for dinner. My decision-making abilities stop when I walk in the door of my house.
PT: How has your understanding of medicine affected your role as a husband and father?
JL: We have a rule at home: She can take the baby or herself to the doctor regardless of what I say. I try not to be a doctor at home. I try to be a dad and a husband and a son and whatever else. But it’s hard. The baby thing is new to both of us, but the doctor thing is not. It’s hard to take the emotions out.
PT: Did they prepare you for this in school?
JL: No. The one thing I wished I had in school was a class on the business and politics of health care. I also didn’t know about the social norms I would be expected to handle. I mean, I get text messages from friends I haven’t seen in years saying they have a sinus infection, and could I call in a Z-pack. That can put you in a very uncomfortable position. Or friends or colleagues or supervisors even, who have the expectation that it’s no big deal. There’s some degree of professional responsibility you have to uphold. I mean, I wouldn’t ask my friend at the mall for a free shirt.