Alumni Spotlight: Hugh Hemsley, MD (MD ’82)Dr. Hugh Hemsley smiles at the camera

About two years ago, two family friends attending medical school in the Midwest contacted Hugh Hemsley, MD (MD ’82) to ask him how they could gain experience closer to their Virginia Beach, VA hometown. Dr. Hemsley helped set up a rotation for the engaged couple at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital on Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore, where he practices emergency medicine.

“They had a wonderful time,” Dr. Hemsley says. “The emergency room has lots of interesting cases. They got to do a lot of hands-on procedures, and the hospital treated them like family.” That experience led Dr. Hemsley to approach his alma mater about creating an ongoing rotation at Shore Memorial.

“Physicians have a responsibility to teach, to pass on their experiences and skills to the next generation,” says Dr. Hemsley, an EVMS clinical preceptor and instructor and a recipient of the EVMS Outstanding Alumni Award. “Medical school is one thing, but there is a lot more involved in being a physician,” he says, “like how to practice the art of medicine in terms of dealing with sick people and other people in your profession.”
Dr. Hemsley recalls that when he was in medical school, he benefitted most from rotations where he worked one-on-one with the preceptor and had full responsibility to take care of patients, rather than being part of a large team of students.

“I realized that was what we could offer at Shore, this one-to-one preceptorship,” he says. Dr. Hemsley encourages fellow alumni to become preceptors, citing several benefits. Having to explain to students why he orders certain tests or prescribes particular medications helps keep the practice of medicine fresh for him. He also learns from students, who are up to date on the latest scientific knowledge. 

“Medical students, by nature, are intelligent and highly motivated people,” he says. “They are there to learn and work hard, and they take criticism well. I consider them to be an asset.”

Dr. Hemsley is originally from McLean, Virginia. His interest in medicine began in the ’60s, when he was fascinated with TV programs like “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Dr. Kildare” that featured compassionate physicians willing to tackle hard cases.
His career began with medically-related jobs. He was an orderly in an emergency room, worked for a lab, and, most significantly, served as a cardiac tech with a rescue squad. That last job sealed his interest in medicine and led him to apply to medical school.

Throughout his time at EVMS, he knew he wanted to be an emergency room physician. After his residency, Dr. Hemsley and his wife moved to the Richmond area, and for the first 25 years of his career, he practiced emergency medicine at several hospitals there. Then he started traveling, working in in Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina and other locations in Virginia. He spent time at inner-city, rural and suburban hospitals and saw patients from a wide variety of backgrounds. He also has helped medical examiners with death investigations, did medical missionary work overseas and practiced cruise ship medicine.

These days Dr. Hemsley a works four-day schedule at Shore Memorial, staying at a hotel and then going back to his home in Chesterfield County for 10 days between hospital stints. “I think I’ve had a very rewarding career as a physician. I’ve gotten to do a lot of things,” Dr. Hemsley says “I thank EVMS for that. They had faith in my ability and gave me a chance.”

Dr. Hemsley has been a longtime donor to EVMS because he wants to help other students have the same kinds of opportunities medical school gave him. Along with his wife, Pam, he has also created an endowed scholarship for medical students with experience as first responders who are interested in emergency medicine. Pre-hospital care providers are Dr. Hemsley's first love. “They are a special group of people who are very dedicated.”