By the time most doctors reach their 70s — especially those in the fast-paced emergency room settings — they have already thrown in the towel. But not Floyd Medical Center’s Ed Malcolm.
At 74, he is still going strong.
“It’s hard to retire,” Malcolm said. “I keep saying I’m going to, but then ...”
But then he keeps full-time hours in FMC’s emergency room, working 11 to 12 hours at a time 14 or 15 times a month.
Malcolm is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He entered emergency medicine when the field was not very popular and very few doctors wanted to work in the hectic environment of the ER.
“I’ve always liked the excitement of it,” Malcolm said. “I get tired. I get scared, but I never get bored. … Nobody plans to go to the emergency room, but everybody ends up there. We see all the spectrum of society.”
The doctor got his first taste of the medical profession in 1961, when he was an ambulance attendant for Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. There were no paramedics at that time — only drivers who carried patients to the hospital in large station wagons that functioned solely as transport. Malcolm then served in the medical service corps of the U.S. Army while he was in Vietnam from 1968 until 1970.
Malcolm graduated from Emory University’s medical school in 1973. He started full-time work in 1975, spending seven years at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta and then at Windy Hill for another seven years. Malcolm arrived at FMC in 1989 and has been here ever since — although he did have some brief part-time experience working at the hospital in Rome during his first full year of work.
Malcolm said he has seen tremendous change in the medical field in his 41 years in the profession.
When he first started working as an ER doctor, most patients were admitted by their family doctor if they needed to be in the hospital. Now that is almost never the case, Malcolm said. In addition, the advancements in technology mean that tests and scans figure prominently in a patient’s diagnosis and treatment.
Time tells all
One aspect, Malcolm said, has remained the same since before he started practicing medicine.
“The mortality rate is still 100 percent,” he said, repeating the old doctors’ saying.
Some aspects of his job never get easier.
The hardest part, he said, is dealing with the parents of teenagers.
“Teenagers do stupid things,” Malcolm said. “They have as long as I’ve been practicing medicine. … They think they’re immortal.”
Malcolm often has had to be the bearer of difficult news to parents when young people have been severely injured or killed as the result of some type of accident. It is never easy. Neither is being the doctor working the case of a very ill child or infant — especially in cases of those who do not survive.
“It just breaks you down,” Malcolm said. “You don’t get used to it. If you do, you don’t need to be doing this.”
There are good moments as well. The best part of Malcolm’s job, he said, is seeing people who have survived difficult illnesses or injuries and seeing those who he has seen grow up during the years of his practice.
After seeing people over and over again, Malcolm gets to know who they are and their stories, which he enjoys.
Malcolm also seems to enjoy quizzing the medical students who go through their medical residency at the hospital. He will ask them questions such as who discovered and developed the polio vaccine, who discovered diabetes, who discovered penicillin and who discovered and developed the vaccine for small pox.
Malcolm said they may get one out of four questions right and he makes them look up the answers if they don’t know them already.
“They’ll kid me,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘You know all that because most of these people were your classmates.’”
For 27 years, Malcolm has attended to the sick and injured who have passed through the ER doors, and he has done it all commuting from north Fulton County.
He doesn’t work nights anymore — for which he is quite grateful — and the drive to work sometimes seems very long. But the ride home is different.
“That’s my quiet time,” Malcolm said. “It’s my study time. I’ve listened to more medical tapes driving — when you’re in the care, you’re captured. I unwind on the way home. We just never got around to moving. The grandchildren are near us. We can’t move now.”
Malcolm said he considers himself blessed. He’s been married for 51 years and has three children — two of whom are doctors and one who is in financial services.
He has given some thought to slowing down, but he’s not ready to call it quits just yet.
“As long as I’m healthy and I’m not a danger to myself or a danger to others, I’ll keep practicing — and they keep a close watch on me at the hospital ...” Malcolm said, laughing. “I probably would have retired if I hadn’t passed by boards again, but it’s not going to be another 10 years that I’ll be working, I can tell you that. And I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen more than most people.”