After moving away from Albuquerque to a small, rural Georgia town while working as an intelligence officer in the Air Force, Kimberly Pruett, MD, sought a hobby to ease some of her culture shock.
“I signed up at the local community college to take an EMT (emergency medical technician) class, and that was the way I was going to meet people and keep myself busy,” she said. “That’s when I realized I loved it so much and I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.”
From that point forward, Pruett made the decision to leave the Air Force and pursue a career in medicine.
She came back to Albuquerque and was accepted into The University of New Mexico School of Medicine. After graduating in 2014, she completed a residency at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Her initial post-residency plan was to practice medicine in a developing country with limited medical resources, but she realized she could make a similar impact in underserved areas of New Mexico.
“I was thinking I was going to do global medicine and go be a village doctor somewhere in a rural setting,” she said. “But as I started thinking about it, a little light bulb in my head went off and I realized I could move home, be closer to my family and still make a difference.”
She completed a rural and tribal Emergency Medical Service Fellowship at UNM and has since served as a guest lecturer for Grand Canyon EMS, Carlsbad Caverns EMS and multiple state and tribal agencies in New Mexico. She has also lectured at the International Round Table for Community Paramedicine.
“I got exposed to so many areas of the state and met so many wonderful people dedicated to their communities,” she said.
“Learning how to enable them in their endeavors through being a medical director and being given the opportunity to teach and train and be involved in some community public health efforts has been such a privilege. It’s so neat to see how many wonderful people there are doing EMS in the state.”
Starting in September, Pruett – who works clinically in the emergency departments at UNM Hospital and UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center and is an assistant professor at the UNM Department of Emergency Medicine – will become the New Mexico State EMS Medical Director. In this position, she will help guide the practice of EMS across the state and advocate for the EMS profession, as well as work with elected officials and community leaders to advance the care provided to New Mexican communities.
“Dr. Pruett is a New Mexican through and through,” said Joy Crook, MD, division chief of Prehospital, Austere and Disaster Medicine at UNM. “Her commitment to bettering our communities is apparent, and this role will be the perfect opportunity for her to guide EMS practice and impact New Mexico.”
Crook, who is the current State EMS Medical Director, will be leaving in September to take a position at Vanderbilt Medical Center. In the meantime, Crook will assist Pruett in the transition.
“Dr. Crook has done such a great job and she’s still here, so it’ll be good handover with her in terms of her workload and how she handles it,” Pruett said. “I’m very grateful.”
Pruett said, in her new position, she plans to advocate for support and recognition and, eventually, for more financing for smaller EMS agencies around the state. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the health care workforce, particularly the EMS workforce, has faced many challenges that are largely overlooked, she said.
“There are a lot of struggles with retention and having competitive pay, and those kinds of things are amplified to a significant extent in rural areas,” she said. “I’m hoping to use this new platform as a medical director as a voice and good representation of what it’s like to be an EMS provider in the state.”