Compassion When It Counts

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Emergency Medicine physician Robert Zimmerman, MD, FACEP, recent “Dinner with the Doc” honoree, earns rave reviews from patients at UH Geauga Medical Center

UH Clinical Update | July 2022

Like most if not all emergency physicians, Robert Zimmerman, MD, FACEP, describes himself as an adrenaline junkie.

Robert Zimmerman, MD UH GeaugaRobert Zimmerman, MD

One of the draws of a career in the ED, after all, is that every day’s mix of emergencies is vastly different – and many require highly technical skills applied at life-saving speed.

But Dr. Zimmerman isn’t the kind of physician who lets such a pace interfere with his interactions with patients and their families. Patients rave about how well he treated them – in 2021 he was the physician most frequently mentioned in patient experience surveys for UH Geauga Medical Center, for his kind demeanor and his ability to effectively communicate with patients and their families.

Some of their comments include, “Dr. Zimmerman does not just see another patient, but a person in need who is worthy of compassion. Even during the busiest times in the emergency department, Dr. Zimmerman continues to treat every patient with courtesy and respect, thoughtfully listening to their concerns and responding with compassion,” wrote one former patient.

Another wrote, “Dr. Zimmerman is a doctor that is suited to his job. He has a wealth of knowledge and ruled out several other possibilities of things that could be wrong with me by ordering the correct tests. He is easy to talk to and makes his patients as comfortable as possible.”

His compassion and interactions with patients are a key reason he was selected for the “Dinner with the Doc” award in June.

Dr. Z., as he is fondly known, feels as warmly toward his patients and colleagues as they feel about him. He has been at UH Geauga for 20 years, and says he can’t imagine working anywhere else.

“I fell in love with the hospital when I got here 20 years ago,” he says. “It was a smaller facility then, but I’ve stayed because I love the patient populations and the care the nurses give. Patients say, ‘Thank you.’ They listen to what you tell them to do, and they appreciate that you are there to help them.”

“Many of our nurses live in the community, and it’s like the old-fashioned philosophy – taking care of people like they are your neighbors or family. I know the housekeeping staff and of course, many of the patients.”

He’ll often encounter someone who says, “You took care of my mama” or “You saved my life.” Perhaps he remembers them, perhaps not – but he always appreciates their kind words.

UH Geauga, of course, has transformed from a small community hospital known for serving many rural township and villages to one with the availability of many sophisticated specialties, including a cath lab interventional center, orthopedics, and the presence of UH Seidman Cancer Center.

Dr. Robert Zimmerman grew up in Toronto, where both of his parents were university professors who did research. His initial plan was to follow in their footsteps and become a research physician. By the time he graduated with his medical degree from University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, he knew he wanted interaction with patients rather than the more solitary work of research.

He came to Cleveland for his residency in Emergency Medicine, and was hooked – he even trained as a Life Flight physician, a rotation that provided a level of excitement he still remembers.

During his residency, he reconnected with a high school friend from the international youth group he’d belonged to, who lived in Shaker Heights. Nancy and Rob dated, they married, and traveled all over the world before having twins (and later another child who was born at Geauga Hospital.). Except for a brief foray to Rome, Ga. where he also worked in the ED, Dr. Zimmerman has stayed in Northeast Ohio. For some years, he served as medical director and regional medical director of the emergency departments of UH Geauga, UH Conneaut and UH Geneva medical centers and also as EMS director, though now he’s happy to focus purely on being an emergency physician.

Very often, he and the staff see patients presenting with chest pain. “You may have seen thousands but you learn this one can be different,” he says. There are accidents occurring at home or in the workplace, abdominal pain, and blunt trauma. Unlike the penetrating trauma seen more often in Cleveland – gun shots, usually – this kind of trauma might be related to an auto accident or a fall. Dr. Zimmerman, however, was working the day of the Chardon High School shooting, which claimed the lives of three teens – a very difficult day that he recalls all too well.

He can’t imagine doing anything else other than working in the ED.

“We have the ability to help people, to figure out what’s wrong,” he says. “Sometimes they are critically ill and you can save them, and sometime you can’t, but you owe it to their family to comfort them.

Dr. Zimmerman likes to say that Geauga is one of the true gems in the University Hospital health care system, and he plans on working there until he retires.

Congratulations to Dr. Zimmerman on his “Dinner with the Doc” honor. To nominate a physician for this honor, please visit the UH Digital Workplace. The next deadline is July 22.

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