Dr. Lala Dunbar
Modesty is the word that jumps out at you after a talk with Professor. Lala Dunbar of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. Although she is double-boarded in emergency medicine and internal medicine, and has a PhD in biochemistry to boot, she shies away from accolades.
At age 72, Dunbar works 150-160 hours a month in the ED, pulling 12-hour shifts at University Hospital in New Orleans, where she is in charge of scheduling. “When I have trouble filling the schedule, I end up working the shift myself,” she laughs, explaining how she happened to take the Christmas Eve shift.
In addition to working clinically, Dunbar conducts clinical research. She and her research team have conducted “60 or so protocols,” bringing in more than $4 million in research grants to her institution.
Dunbar says that when she finished her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in the mid-1950s, there was no expectation that women would “do anything professionally meaningful with their lives.” But at age 21, while doing lab work at the National Institutes of Health, she realized she wanted to be a physician. She put the idea on the back burner while she married and had a family, but some 13 years later she started graduate school in biochemistry to “establish myself academically” before applying to medical school. “As fate would have it, I stayed and got a PhD.”
Dunbar then earned an MD from George Washington University School of Medicine, and after residency in internal medicine, she worked as a solo practitioner for a few years, working at times in the ED. “Then I just took stock of life and decided I was happiest in the ER. I closed my practice and started doing emergency medicine exclusively.”
Dunbar currently serves on EMF’s Scientific Review Committee, the group that evaluates applications for EMF grants. “We look at three questions that I first heard in a lecture by Dr. Joseph Waeckerle, the former editor of Annals of Emergency Medicine: Is it new, is it true, and is it important? Research that just reinvents the wheel adds nothing, research that isn’t statistically sound isn’t worth doing, as no meaningful conclusions can be made, and the value of the information gained is what lends importance to a study. The Scientific Review committee also considers proposals in light of the goal of fostering development of young researchers in our specialty.”
Dunbar thinks that funding resident research is one of the most important things EMF does, “because it stimulates interest in the up-and-coming young people in the specialty.”
Is she planning to retire soon? Not a chance. “Commenting on her busy schedule, she notes, “I have to recertify next year, so I have to make time to study.”