Faculty Spotlight: Marlin Trainer, DO

Dr. Marlin Trainer is an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at ICOM. He is board-certified in Emergency Medicine and has been practicing in the Treasure Valley for almost 20 years, taking care of the great, and not-so-great, people that come visit him in the ER. He does use OMM in the Emergency Department to occasionally care for patients especially with musculoskeletal complaints.

Dr. Trainer was born in Arizona. He attended undergraduate university at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, CA initially in engineering but ultimately received a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology. He then stayed local, attending the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific in Pomona, CA. He took a Health Professions Scholarship Program scholarship during osteopathic undergrad, and then served another nine years in active duty with the Army. He completed residency in emergency medicine during that time at Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, TX.  During residency, Dr. Trainer participated in numerous research projects and contributed a chapter on snake and arthropod envenomation to an emergency medicine textbook. He served as chief resident during his third year. Dr. Trainer states that even after all this time he still really enjoys emergency medicine and teaching, and has a great time taking care of patients and working with his awesome staff and colleagues in the ER.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?

A: I only ever wanted to be a physician. I was always very interested in physiology and anatomy and how things worked, and I had an affinity for helping people even at a young age. I got sidetracked in my teens when I started working with my dad in construction. It was very satisfying, working as a carpenter, but after two years in engineering in undergrad I couldn’t fight my desire to be a physician any longer and I switched majors.

Regarding my choice to go into emergency medicine, I have always been interested in more procedural type specialties, and I initially considered general surgery. But after being a surgical tech for five years during undergrad, I was pretty much cured of that notion. Also, emergency medicine as a profession was relatively new and I couldn’t make a decision on any one specialty. I really enjoyed internal medicine, still somewhat enjoying surgery, but also liked orthopedics, OB, pediatrics, trauma, and taking care of all ages. I also was not really enjoying working in a clinic setting, the pace was just too slow for me, and I also saw what having to take call had done to my preceptors in the specialties, oh, and I liked being in the hospital. Plus, emergency medicine was considered the frontier, literally, where only the cowboys practiced, and I do like my country music, so really the only option for me was to go into emergency medicine. 

Q: How did you transition into academia, and what inspired you to work for ICOM?

A: I have always enjoyed teaching. I tutored in undergrad, and high school, and in osteopathic school I also tutored. When I got into residency I pretty much continued that path, and part of my role in residency was to teach medical students. As I advanced to chief resident, I continued teaching junior residents and interns. I’ve always enjoyed teaching. After residency, my first attending role was working at a teaching facility that had multiple residency programs, so I was able to continue teaching residents and students.

But I always had this feeling that many times the students that I taught as an attending had already been formed from a clinical decision making and knowledge standpoint and I didn’t feel I had as much opportunity for making a strong impact on them by then. I really started to feel that the school-level is where I wanted to go next to see if I could make a larger difference in students’ lives and help them maybe learn some of what I’d learned over my career and make their lives easier as well.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time at medical school?

A: Man, so this is tough for me for a couple reasons. First off, I have a terrible memory! And second, there are so many stories to tell, if only I could remember them…

Okay, so, my most memorable memory is probably one I shouldn’t tell anyone. I have to preface this by saying first of all that this was before computers, before video surveillance, and even before the cell phone (can you believe that? Was there such a time? I think that tells you how old I am).

I also need to preface this with the fact that my undergraduate degree was in zoology, but I have minors in physiology, chemistry, physics, and microbiology (yep, total overachiever). So, at least for me, a lot of my second year curriculum where we started doing systems was completely review.

Alright, so, because it was review I didn’t feel like I needed to sit in lecture and get this review, even though I learn best in class. I still felt I could do this on my own at home and this would allow me to do other…things.

The school is in sunny Southern California, and it’s beautiful most of the year. Also, my school had a volleyball court and a basketball court right on campus. During my second year I spent a lot of time on that court, probably too much time. And this is where my most memorable experience starts…

I came to school one day and the Dean was waiting for me in the lobby and called me into his office. He says to me, “what are you going to do next year?” I had no clue what he was talking about so I said that. He said, “well, you’re not going to be able to go to clinical rotations next year and you are likely not going to graduate.”

At this point I’m starting to sweat, and I can tell my blood pressure is going through the roof, but I’m also thinking to myself what the heck is going on here, I’m toward the top of my class academically and I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t progress normally.

He then asked, “are you aware we have a mandatory attendance policy here?” I did not know that and I told him so. He then told me that there is a policy requiring 85% attendance and there is no way I hit that number, all  while he was pointing to the large window behind him while telling me this.

I need to tell you something at this point, and I realize what an idiot I am now, because the court where I played basketball and volleyball most of the day was right in front of the Deans office behind that large window. I had never registered that fact!

So now I’m really sweating, I’m starting to feel a little bit of a fight or flight response coming on, I just wanted the heck out of there. I’m thinking to myself, “Trainer come on, you can do this, think…think!” So I say as meekly as possible, “Sir, I hate to disagree with you but I am pretty sure that I have made that 85% mark.” He tells me that, because of the window, he knows for a fact that I haven’t. I am screwed, but I also recall that there had never been any attendance sheet or role taken the whole year and a half I’d been at the school. But I’m still panicking.

I tell him, a little more confidently, “Sir, again I hate to disagree, but I’m going to have to ask you to prove to me that I haven’t been here 85% of the time.” This statement was met with total silence. I thought, I am out, he’s going to expel me! Then his face turned red and I’m pretty sure the vein in the middle of his forehead started to bulge. His mouth was silently starting to work but no words were coming out and I could see a little spittle in the corners. I didn’t know if this was the end or if I should call a doctor until he stood up, violently motioned for the door and said, “get out of my office!”

Of course, I did progress normally, and I did graduate in the top of my class, but this was by far my most memorable, and nerve-wracking, experience in med school. No, you can’t hold this over my head…

Q: What is the best part of your job?

A: Really, it’s taking care of patients, especially critical patients, but really any patient. I also enjoy working with the staff, nurses, my colleagues, and anyone involved in patient care. There are always conflicts that arise and those aren’t fun but, overall the people are who I enjoy.

Q: Knowng what you now know, what advice would you give to yourself as a first-year medical student?

A: I have a ton of things that I would tell myself, probably starting off with don’t miss class when there’s mandatory attendance! But I think the biggest thing is to always work well with others. If there’s conflict don’t lose your cool, don’t get angry, stay calm and talk it out. Sometimes there is no resolution, the other person might just be out of control, but recognize likely that has nothing to do with you personally, the other person is likely having a bad day, or maybe a bad life. It’s not you. And similarly, along those lines is to always have fun. Make a plan every day to find some fun or enjoyment in whatever it is you’re doing. Remember that you’re a doctor and you made it!

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