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MOBILE, Ala. -- Since his first days in health care, working as an Emergency Medical Technician for an ambulance company in Birmingham, Michael May has loved the opportunity to make life better for people who are ill or injured.
Then he was responsible for whatever emergency required an ambulance.
Now he’s responsible for everything related to surgery at the University of South Alabama Medical Center and USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital — operating rooms, anesthesia, recovery, pre-admission testing, sterile supply and same day surgery.
“Mike brings many years of direct operating room experience to USAMC,” says Brian Norris, administrator of ambulatory services for USA Health. “He has focused his career on helping surgeons and patients be able to get into the operating room, have a good experience and get out of the hospital.”
Most recently, Norris said, Mike directed the development of a growth strategy for a major hospital in Birmingham, “creating a good place to work for staff, and better access for patients and surgeons. His hands-on approach will help USA achieve its goals.”
But May’s path from a Birmingham ambulance to director of perioperative services at USA’s hospitals was more than the 250 miles down Interstate 65.
Work as an EMT didn’t pay enough to live on, so he wanted to get a college degree. But he couldn’t afford college.
An uncle had just been killed in Vietnam. Out of respect for him, May joined the military, working as a combat medic, using his GI Bill benefits to attend nursing school and graduating ready for hospital work. He served 22 years total service and ended his career as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve as a combat surgical nurse.
It’s lucky he was anxious to work, because his hospital nursing career began on graduation day — working as charge nurse on the 3 to 11 shift at South Highlands Hospital in the emergency department.
He spent 20 years at South Highlands and HealthSouth, which took over South Highlands, then five at Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, then back to UAB Highlands, which was formerly HealthSouth, over to Trinity Medical Center and staying with it as it transformed into Grandview Medical Center.
He’s seen a lot of changes over those years. May said he remembers like yesterday the first time a paramedic was allowed to push a drug in the field — following radioed instructions from the ER physician. He remembers appendectomies that required an open incision and a lengthy recovery rather than the 20-minute laparoscopic procedure they are today.
And he appreciates every bit of improvement to technique and technology.
“Surgery is so much less invasive today,” he says. And that’s important because it takes less time to recover and it’s safer for the patients.”
The changes make the work more challenging — a good thing, he says — but allow him to fulfill his primary responsibility.
“I focus on patient safety. I want everyone to feel they are safe and they are getting good care here,” he said.
That’s a two-fold job — helping the patient feel safe and be safe.
“We try to create a culture where the staff understands that the patient lying in the bed is really nervous. We have to make them feel comfortable and feel that we’re competent and caring. We need to work as a team to keep them safe, to be their advocate, to make sure all goes as planned.”
More than helping patient feels safe, his goal to make sure they are safe — following National Patient Safety Guidelines, making sure everyone on the team is competent, understands his or her job and has the equipment and supplies and personnel when and where they are supposed to be — “everything the moment they need it.”
He’s been part of USA Health about two months, and is confident about his new colleagues. “The people working here want it to work right.“
“There are good people working here,” he says. “To do the job they do, here in a trauma center, is hard. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t committed to what they’re doing.”
In the end, he says, his job is simply about people — and that’s what he loves. “I think it’s the whole idea of helping people — whether they’re your employees or your surgeons or your patients. It’s a people job.”
And he wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, maybe if he could be a professional baseball player. But in the meantime, nursing is it for him. “I love it,” he says.
A Birmingham native, he enjoys the fishing here and the hunting back up north. His wife of 40 years will join him here as soon as she retires, but their children and grandchildren will keep Birmingham ties close.
© 2017 USA Health System