Writing “Workshop Wound Care,” a field manual that’s part of Lost Art Press’s pocket-book series, combined two things Dr. Jeffery Hill enjoys and loves: medicine and woodworking. Hill, an emergency room physician and active woodworker, organized this 184-page book so you can resolve common workshop injuries quickly. The book is knowledgeable yet also exceedingly accessible, which is important when you’re feeling a bit panicked. Hill writes as if he’s talking to you bedside, and his manner is one made up of no-nonsense intelligence and education with a bit of empathy and humor. That ease of talking to folks during emergencies big and small comes naturally to Hill – it’s a skill he’s been working on since he was 16.
Finding Mentors in a Small River Town Emergency Department
Hill was born in Madison, Indiana, a small town of about 12,000 people situated along the Ohio River between Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. His mother was a school teacher who taught French (and Spanish in the bookends of her career). His father worked for the Indiana Department of Mental Health, first as a case worker, then as a district and regional manager.
Hill’s grandfather was a pretty successful carpenter and furniture maker, and Hill still owns a couple of the pieces he made, including a small school table that now has a place in his daughter’s room.
“It’s really nice,” Hill says. “He did a lot of work within the community, making things for churches, general carpentry, that sort of thing.”
Hill’s grandfather passed away when Hill was still fairly young.
Hill became interested in medicine as a teenager and in high school, he began volunteering in the emergency department (ED) of King’s Daughters’ Hospital and later working there as an orderly.
“The doctors I encountered there were very impactful,” he says. “I really became interested in medicine in general and picked it as my ultimate career path.”
Hill’s educational path is an interesting one. Emergency medicine (EM) residencies are relatively new in the broader field of medicine. University of Cincinnati’s (UC) EM residency, founded in 1970, is the oldest in the country. According to Hill, prior to EM residencies, a lot of doctors in communities were internal medicine or family medicine doctors who also worked in the ED but lacked in the specialized training necessary to deal with a wide range of emergent conditions.
Back to King’s Daughters’ Hospital: Among the many impactful physicians working in the ED at that time, Hill particularly remembers Dr. Joe Beaven and Dr. Barrett Bernard, who saw a teenager who had an interest in medicine. They talked him through cases, telling him what to pay attention to, how they were sequencing what they were doing, and showing him how to take care of a lot of patients at the same time.
“I still remember them drawing anatomy lessons on the bed sheets in ink to teach the patients what was happening to them,” Hill says. “I imagine it really pissed the hospital off,” he adds, laughing. But that kind of care and way of practice, which he witnessed as a teenager, really fed into Hill’s psyche as he embarked on his own medical degree. In addition to being valuable role models as clinicians, Beaven and Bernard were also role models as educators. The lessons Hill learned at King’s Daughters’ Hospital linger today, as he teaches his residents and as he wrote “Workshop Wound Care.”
A Clinician Educator
Hill knew he wanted to attend medical school; emergency medicine in particular called to him.
He attended Xavier University in Cincinnati from 2000 to 2004 where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Sciences. From 2004 to 2008 he attended U.C. College of Medicine and earned his Doctor of Medicine. He then stayed on at U.C. for his residency training, following which he became a Medical Education fellow, earning his Master of Medical Education from U.C. in 2014. Since graduating fellowship, he has been an assistant residency director in the department of emergency medicine at U.C., an associate professor of emergency medicine, and an attending physician in the emergency department.
As assistant residency director, Hill supervises the department’s weekly Grand Rounds conference, considered “the cornerstone of resident didactic education” with both residents and attending physicians present. These weekly sessions involve simulations, case presentations, and lectures. Hill also mentors the journal club and is the founder and one of the chief editors of the department’s education blog, Taming the SRU (SRU stands for Shock Resuscitation Unit and is colloquially pronounced as “shrew”).
“It’s a great outlet for the residents to try their hand at academic writing,” he says. “It covers common procedures and conditions and literature, and includes weekly summaries of our rounds. It’s an awesome educational tool and a durable collection of all the teaching we’ve done, the Grand Rounds since we started. So if you’re on shift and a student has a question, you can look up and find where we’ve covered it before.”
Much of Hill’s work in emergency medicine has been focused on education and improving the teaching experience.
Since, as he states, “students engage when they’re more ready to engage,” he has sought to find ways of teaching that are adaptable to the variable work hours of his learners.
Finding Balance in a Busy Life
“One of the great things about emergency medicine is the opportunity to wear a bunch of hats,” Hill says. “It keeps things fresh.”
On a typical day, Hill might start out wearing an academic hat, attending meetings and working on academic papers. And then he might switch to a clinician’s hat, working a 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift. And then he’ll switch to his household hat, taking care of things at home.
Hill says while the field is challenging, there are tricks to not burning out. One of those is understanding the task-switching nature of ED medicine and bringing that task-switching nature to his everyday life.
“That’s how I get things done, essentially,” he says.
Emergency medicine has also taught Hill how to better relate to people.
“I think that emergency medicine is very much a people-person type of field,” he says. “You would expect us to be extroverts and we’re not very extroverted. But the ER makes you rapidly establish a relationship with people.”
This way of working, having to facilitate relationships with strangers in an instant, has helped Hill read and understand people in ways he didn’t imagine. You gain a lot of empathy for people, he says. You see a lot of folks who are going through some hard times.”
Woodworking’s Longitudinal Focus
Hill’s interest in woodworking grew later in life.
“I always liked to do things with my hands,” he says.
He took a woodworking class in high school, which he says he really loved, but it wasn’t until his residency that he picked up tools again. He and his wife, who he met in high school (they have a son, 3, and daughter, 8, “and they’re both awesome,” Hill says) had their starter home (a beautiful century-old house) in Pleasant Ridge, just north of the Cincinnati metro area.
“It needed some renovations and so I had to figure out how to do some things,” he said.
First up was an inset bench in their kitchen to give the family a little more seating.
“It’s fine,” he says. “It’s not put together appropriately. I used whatever wood I could find at the hardwood store because I didn’t know any better.”
Hill says he was inspired, in part, by Christopher Schwarz’s “Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”
“If you have something in the world you need, it’s great to make it,” Hill says. “And I learned I was able to make things as exactly as I wanted them and needed them.”
That project led to other projects, learning more about woodworking and watching a lot of joints being made and cut with hand tools on YouTube. Hill bought a small library’s worth of books and read them within a span of a year. He created a Rolodex-like collection of home resources, in the form of books, articles and videos, he says, so that he could solve problems as he encountered them.
There is a reason “Workshop Wound Care” is straight-up problem-solving. He wrote the type of book he wanted to add to his Rolodex collection of resources in his home shop.
Hill also loves cooking and gardening. This year he grew cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and all kinds of peppers. Together, these three things are his biggest hobbies, yet they all share a common similarity – they are all hobbies you can lose yourself in, he says – especially woodworking.
“Emergency medicine requires deep attention to detail but not quite as much as some other medicine specialties,” he says. “I focus intently on something for a short period of time, shift to something else, and then repeat that a hundred times a day. Woodworking requires a longitudinal focus. I basically stay there and work hours at a time without realizing time has passed. I’m completely focused on that and I completely let go. Gardening is less so. It’s pulling weeds. But I grow for myself. I enjoy the process of starting something off and seeing that it grows.”
Dr. Hill’s woodworking shop is split – his machine tools are in his garage and his hand tools are in his basement. His first big project was a Benchcrafted Split Top Roubo workbench. It was a multi-month-long process.
“I had a joiner but it was very small,” he says. “I basically used hand tools and handplanes to true all the surfaces before I put it through my planer. I tend to build things that are too big. It’s very refreshing to build things that are smaller.”
He has a long wish list of things to build, one of which he just recently crossed off – a beautiful stick chair. While working on it, he enjoyed the same problem-solving aspect of woodworking that he enjoys when working in the ED.
“In a lot of fields, a patient presents with a known problem,” he says. “But in emergency medicine, the problem is figuring something out with the tools you have. It’s very engaging and fun.”
How does he have time for it all? Balance.
“All that just comes from prioritizing your time and being efficient as much as possible,” he says. “And I try to get better at starting projects and finishing in a reasonable time frame. And just making the time for it.”
The Lessons of Life
Hill says that while working in the ED does teach you the good and the bad of life, it’s an honor to take care of people who are very ill.
“Life is nasty, brutish and short,” he says. “People have terrible things happen to them: cancer diagnoses, car accidents, trauma of some kind, through no fault of their own.”
At times he has to compartmentalize the things that happen at the ED. Doing so helps him better appreciate the time he has outside of work. But he also recognizes that you can’t be scared of life. He still drives on the road, he says, even though he knows – and sees the aftermath of – terrible car accidents that happen every day. And he still enjoys woodworking, even though machines are powerful and hand tools are sharp.
Hill recently posted a picture of his nearly finished stick chair, soaking in the evening light, on Instagram. He wrote about the finish he used – one coat of Real Milk Paint Co. Barn Red, one coat of Arabian Night and two coats of Peacock. He said, “Probably burnished a bit much before top coating with two coats of shop finish. At the end of the day I’m happy with the finish and learned some lessons for the next project.”
Hill shared pictures throughout his stick chair-building process. Progress shots, successes and minor setbacks, intermingled with pictures of produce from his garden, his kids – just life. It’s all learning. As a skilled educator, he understands that. Working in both his home shop and in the emergency department, he knows that sometimes, life can be easier with a manual, whether it’s an explanation drawn in pen on a bed sheet, a YouTube video or a little red reference book you can quickly grab if you’ve accidentally hammered your thumb. And that’s why he wrote the latter.
— Harper Claire Haynes & Kara Gebhart Uhl