If you go
What: Doc Willett Health Care Heritage Awards
When: 7 a.m. Saturday
Where: Strings Music Pavilion
Cost: $40 in advance, $50 at door
Tickets: Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley, 871-0700; SportsMed; Yampa Valley Medical Center information desk
Larry Bookman didn't choose medicine. Medicine chose him.
That's how the emergency room doctor frames it. When Bookman graduated from Temple University with a biology degree, he saw three paths: the Vietnam War draft, Canada or graduate school. In his view, Vietnam wasn't an option, and Canada wasn't terribly appealing.
"It was either graduate school in biology or medical school, and medical school sounded more interesting," Bookman said.
More than 40 years later, the doctor is being honored for a career that has boosted health care in the Yampa Valley. Bookman is director of emergency medicine and chief medical officer at Yampa Valley Medical Center. He and John Kerst are the first winners of the Doc Willett Health Care Heritage Award.
Sandy St. Clair, executive director of the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley, said the two men earned the awards because of their long-term commitment to health care.
"It's one thing to do something for a very short time, but to stay at a task and take the steps they took to establish our health care and make it what it is today, we just want to honor that," St. Clair said.
Bookman attended medical school at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He did an internship in internal medicine in Richmond, Va. Despite his earlier efforts, Bookman was tapped to go to Vietnam. He served as a flight surgeon in the Navy.
That service piqued his interest in emergency medicine. The field was just emerging when Bookman decided to pursue it, and he was accepted into one of the only programs in the country, at Denver General.
After he finished there in 1977, a handball tournament took Bookman to Steamboat Springs. He was talked into coming to Steamboat to practice on winter weekends.
"It kind of grew from there," Bookman said.
He's seen and helped emergency care evolve in the Yampa Valley since about 1978. That year, Bookman experienced one of his most challenging cases. A commercial plane crashed during a December snowstorm.
Bookman led the medical team during the rescue. Such potential disasters in Steamboat present unusual challenges, he said.
"Mass casualties in rural areas are a different breed of cat than in cities where you have unlimited resources, and you've got to be a little creative to make it work," Bookman said.
Twenty of 22 people on board survived.
In the 30 years since, Bookman has helped YVMC surge ahead in the extent of emergency care offered, hospital spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said. He's been involved in building pre-hospital and hospital emergency care programs, McKelvie said.
"I don't think that people who have moved here in the past 15 to 20 years may realize what we started with, with our small-town hospital, Routt Memorial Hospital, and how it has grown over the years," McKelvie said. "And one of the areas in which we shine is emergency care, and people tell us that, people from all over the world."
The hospital went from a system of various doctors covering the emergency room to seven board-certified emergency medical physicians, she said.
Bookman said his biggest accomplishments were helping build the emergency care system and helping YVMC evolve into a regional care center.
"We had to make a decision about the hospital, whether we would just be a hospital for Steamboat Springs, taking care of ski injuries, or whether we would transform this into a regular care center, and that's what we did," he said.
The work continues, Bookman said. The federal government is trying to pass health care changes that will affect everyone, and YVMC will need a strategy. Bookman will be at the forefront of developing that.
"It's an ongoing process to analyze the needs of the community and try to provide for them," he said.