One of the first things students want to hear about when Dr. John Fortune walks into their classroom is his most shocking cases as a trauma surgeon. By the end of class, all they want to hear about is the high-quality jobs in healthcare he came to tell them how to access.
Fortune, a professor of surgery at University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, has been traversing the North Country with his interactive presentation during the 2018-2019 school year as part of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)/health care careers program sponsored by the Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation in conjunction with CFES Brilliant Pathways.
Fortune’s current work with CFES – a global non-profit that has helped over 100,000 underserved students become college and career ready – allows him to focus on the aspect of his 35-year career as a professor, researcher and renowned trauma surgeon that he cherishes most: educating young people.
“The one thing I really missed is teaching residents and medical students,” said Fortune. “To watch a young man or woman progress through their educational pathways and develop the skills to work as a mature surgeon is pretty amazing. Talking to young kids through CFES and introducing them to a career in healthcare is similarly gratifying and really important to me.”
One of Fortune’s main goals is to ensure that students are aware of the plethora of jobs in healthcare that are rising along with America’s aging population. The need for respiratory therapists, radiology technologists, pharmacists, home health providers and a host of new jobs is expected to increase for decades. It is estimated that demand for nurses alone will rise from 16 million to more 22.5 million by 2025.
Fortune has witnessed the evolution of the health care profession since entering medical school at Duke University where he majored in English literature as an undergraduate. He grew up watching his father, a chemist for Eli Lilly, conduct medical research including the creation of the first colorimetric analysis test used to measure glucose levels in urine – a scientific breakthrough that paved the way to ensure the appropriate dose of insulin for the treatment of diabetes.
After medical school, Fortune worked on an NIH Fellowship in lung physiology at UC-San Diego before moving to the University of Albany Medical Center where he finished his residency and became Director of Trauma. He later served as the director of trauma and chief of general surgery at the University of Arizona while also running a residency program. He became interested in simulation and surgical education at the University of Southern Illinois before moving to Syracuse to direct the trauma program and burn unit, and serve as head of general surgery.
“I’ve been fortunate to have worked at institutions that were on the cutting edge of research and practice,” said Fortune, who came to the UVM Medical Center in 2009 as a trauma, burn and critical care surgeon. Subsequently, he was the interim medical director of the Regional Transport System to develop a coordinated system to transfer critically ill patients among the hospitals in the vast, rural region of Vermont and northern New York.
“One of our proudest accomplishments was the initiation of a hospital-based aeromedical transport system to reduce the time for patients to get to definitive care,” said Fortune. “This is going to save a lot of lives.”
Fortune moved to Essex, NY, six years ago with his wife Jan where they had summered for over 30 years. He soon launched Sim*Vivo – a company that designs medical simulation learning modules for medical and nursing students to learn specific tasks. Ever the innovator, Fortune’s company is developing cutting edge chest tube with a U.S. Army innovation grant designed to encourage small companies solve major medical problems.
“When someone is injured and has blood in their chest, the tubes that are currently used frequently fail to remove it all resulting in residual blood clots that requires additional surgery,” says Fortune as he pulls a long clear tube with a gadget attached to it out of his bag. “We were funded to develop a tube like this prototype that you can place in the bottom of the chest where the blood goes. Is that cool or what?”
Fortune brings devices like these made by Sim*Vivo to schools across the Adirondacks with Elaine Dixon-Cross, Director of Programs and Initiatives with CFES. They tell students about the education required to access jobs and then show them specific tasks performed by individuals like how to measure oxygen saturation and heart rates like a nurse; draw blood from a surgical mannequin arm like a phlebotomist; and tie a suture like an emergency room doctor or surgeon.
“We want to let students know that they don’t necessarily have to go to college for four, six or even eight years to get all of the benefits of a career in healthcare,” said Dixon-Cross, a former principal at Crown Point Central.
Students like Crown Point sophomore Gavin Sours says the hands-on experience makes all the difference. “I feel like it helps you know if you really want to do this for a career. This really opened you up to new ideas and possible careers.”