8 a.m. — Colin Bucks stands in front of a group of doctors and nurses in front of the Stanford Emergency Department. A simulation of a mass casualty is about to take place. The patients — a row of sock monkeys — are arranged atop a nearby hospital bed and tagged with various conditions. In detail, Bucks lays out how a situation like this is handled in the hospital. He answers questions and quizzes doctors on their responses to various situations. Then a fake phone call alerts the group of an impending mass casualty. They head outside and prepare for the incoming sock monkey patients.
Recent natural disasters emphasize the importance of knowing how our community is prepared. Bucks helps prepare Stanford Hospital, likely the first local care facility to fill up during an emergency, for fires, hurricanes, shootings and other mass casualty events.
The path Bucks took to get to where he is now is so complex it is hard to follow. He graduated from Macalester College, where he studied international development, in 1994. But after spending a semester in East Africa during college, he realized that policy work wasn’t for him.
“I’m too hyper, my personality, for policy work and waiting years for things to happen,” Bucks says.
While studying abroad, Bucks noticed that the people who were making the biggest impact on the quality of life were educators and health care professionals. Inspired by these change-makers, Bucks spent three years as a school teacher in Baltimore, all the while thinking of the health care professionals he encountered while abroad.
Their service led Bucks to volunteer at an emergency department, changing bed sheets and observing the doctors and nurses. He went on to pursue a career in health care, eventually completing additional EMS and disaster response training. But after a number of years in medicine, Bucks left to try his hand at firefighting.
Bucks is one of two emergency medicine physicians that advises the Office of Emergency Management on specific medical issues, and he also creates and maintains disaster preparedness strategies for Stanford Hospital.
According to Bucks, these strategies are primarily focused on reaching the requirements set by the federal joint commission that accredits hospitals around the country. These requirements state that hospitals must have enough basic supplies to continue operations for at least 96 hours during times of crisis.
“Somebody has to count widgets, and count bottles of water and count rolls of toilet paper,” Bucks says. “So as much as the topic of disaster response is somewhat glamorous and exciting, a lot of the actual preparation is mundane and takes a lot of attention to detail.”
“So as much as the topic of disaster response is somewhat glamorous and exciting, a lot of the actual preparation is mundane and takes a lot of attention to detail.”
— Colin Bucks, Emergency Medicine Physician
Along with his responsibilities at the Stanford Hospital, Bucks is also a physician for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 3, one of 28 national task forces. Once the president declares that a situation is a federal natural disaster, different task forces like are deployed to the location of the disaster.
Bucks’ team was deployed to Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the first time their team had gone out in 10 years since not all federally declared natural disasters require assistance from all task forces. For example, the fires that ravaged the Californian coast were declared a federal natural disaster but did not require the Urban Search and Rescue teams.
Bucks also co-directs a team called the Stanford Emergency Medicine Program for Emergency Response, known as SEMPER, which is made up of about 50 doctors and nurses who train to deploy internationally. The team isn’t involved in conflict medicine, so they typically respond to natural disasters, like earthquakes and hurricanes. As part of this team Bucks has traveled to Haiti, the Philippines, Liberia and Ecuador, where he treated injured survivors.
Teams from SEMPER consist of about 8 to 10 people. The team will typically be out for two weeks, but can only be self-sufficient for 78 hours, since they can only hold so much food, water and medical supplies.
“To continue working we only have what we can carry, and it’s well over 200 pounds of gear that you carry out,” Bucks says. “You have a small backpack that you wear on the front, a big backpack that you wear on your back and a big hard case of expensive equipment, and a massive duffel bag of medical supplies. And so you kind of waddle along until you can get stationed some place, and that is literally equipment for 72 hours.”
When a natural disaster occurs, what should people do? Bucks says there is usually work at local shelters that is always helpful. He also notes that the most helpful things people can do are donating blood, volunteering at shelters, buying items from the area of the disaster to boost the economy and donating money to a reliable organization such as the Red Cross.
Bucks’ career path is proof that following your interests can lead you to find what you love.
“Each time that some kind of opportunity has come up and someone said ‘Hey, do you want to go do this?’ I’ve said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that,’” Bucks says. “You think, when you are 18, by the time you get to almost 50 years old you figured out how to do your job. But the truth of the matter is that I’m still learning, still reading, and I have to have people that I can go to to say ‘What’s the next step, how do I do this, how do I get support for or organize this project, or get this published.’”
Bucks encourages students to do the same, to be open-minded and say yes to opportunities because in the end, that will lead you to your passion.
“Always saying yes, and if it is interesting, even if it is extra work just saying ‘Okay I’ll do that,’ that’s how a whole career path just got set in motion, and once you start saying yes then people start saying ‘Oh you might also like this.‘”
— Colin Bucks, Emergency Medicine Physician
“Always saying yes, and if it is interesting, even if it is extra work just saying ‘Okay I’ll do that,’ that’s how a whole career path just got set in motion, and once you start saying yes then people start saying ‘Oh you might also like this.’” v