One Physician’s Journey from Paramedic to EMS Director of the Year

Teaching EMS providers gratifies this emergency medicine physician

Inspired by Los Angeles firefighters/paramedics Johnny and Roy from the 1970s TV show, Emergency!, James Sauto Jr., MD, decided to become an emergency medical technician-paramedic. An associate’s degree in respiratory therapy soon followed. “I found limits to what I knew and what I could do,” he says, “so I pursued a third career as an emergency medicine physician.”

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Honored for his work treating patients and dedication to advancing EMS patient care within Ohio, Dr. Sauto received the 2018 EMS Medical Director of the Year from the Ohio Department of Public Safety EMS Division.

“I was absolutely caught off guard when our director made the announcement. I thought I was simply accepted as a candidate and flattered. Then he corrected me and said I was receiving the award! I give a lot of credit to the work of my peers, our Cleveland Clinic EMS coordinators and other EMS medical directors,” he says.

What can you tell us about your work as EMS Medical Director for 14 city rescue squads that serve Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital and Cleveland Clinic Marymount Hospital?
It’s very gratifying and makes me happy to teach and share my knowledge. The better our EMS providers know and recognize the proper care for the patient, the quicker patients will improve clinically, emotionally and spiritually. Patients will be better stabilized on arrival to the ED, and we will be more prepared for the critically ill.

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Improving the knowledge and skills our EMS crews have will translate to more pride in their jobs and the self-satisfaction it provides. When caregivers are happier, morale improves. Yes, that’s optimistic. My goal is to make it realistic.

In your opinion, what makes an effective leader?
Leading by example. Recognize what is done well and congratulate someone, or the entire crew, after a great job. When there is room for improvement, make that known in a safe, non-demeaning manner. I let them know that we as physicians are also subject to peer review, in like fashion.

Why do you choose to practice at Cleveland Clinic?
I’m from Cleveland, and this is the best hospital in Ohio, second best in the U.S., and No. 1 for cardiology and cardiovascular surgery! The environment here encourages and empowers you to do the right thing, because it’s best and safest for the patient. I take great pride and ownership in working at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Mihaljevic continues to emphasize that everyone who works here is part of our success. That is sincerity in its truest form.

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Have you found ways to build meaningful relationships with patients and their families in emergency situations?
I’ve been repeatedly taught to sit down next to the patient and listen as often as allowable for their condition. Treat the patient like a family member, see them as a person, not as a disease process. Have empathy. Imagine yourself on the other end. I am glad that our video on empathy is shown to all new hires. Find something you have in common, thank the veterans for their service.