James Dunford, MD, has dedicated
his career to helping the vulnerable
By Lauren Crosby, NREMT
It would be easy to trip over the seemingly endless supply of plaques and awards pos- sessed by James Dunford, MD, if they
weren’t so meticulously tucked away out of
sight. The fact that the awards are hidden
behind his well-organized desk isn’t because
their owner trivializes them. It’s merely a testament to the disarming humility of this emergency physician.
Dunford isn’t in it for the praise. He’s on a
tireless quest to fix a broken system. But talent like his can’t hide behind a desk, which is
why it’s no surprise that he’s the 2017 James
O. Page/JEMS Leadership Award recipient.
Dunford passionately believes in helping
some of society’s most vulnerable patients who
often pose the biggest financial burden on the
healthcare system and subsequently drain taxpayer dollars.
Succinctly put, Dunford observed that
“100% of what comes into the hospital is bro-
ken, and 90% of it didn’t have to be.”
It’s from this belief that he’s been instru-
mental in implementing several key projects
for his city, including San Diego Project Heart
Beat, the Resource Access Program (RAP),
Project 25, and countless medical trials in coor-
dination with such impressive medical institu-
tions as National Institutes of Health (NIH),
Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium (ROC),
and the American Heart Association (AHA).
When asked why he chose medicine as a
profession, Dunford responds like so many
other gifted yet unassuming innovators who
seem to stumble into their brilliance: He delivers a casual shrug and smile, saying it never
really crossed his mind.
Having lived in six different cities by the age
of 15, Dunford developed resilience early on
and quickly realized he wanted to surround
himself with intelligent, like-minded individuals in his education.
The first to graduate from college in his
family, he actually credits a friend for pushing
him toward medicine. At the time, Dunford
imagined applying his altruistic nature and academic curiosity to helping the planet through
science. His friend challenged him to use his
talents to save people and to leave the algae to
others, and after receiving his first acceptance
letter to medical school, Dunford began to recognize his ability to build a career in medicine.
He enrolled in Columbia University’s
medical school and distinctly remembers the
moment in anatomy lab, when, after working
on a cadaver for six weeks, its face was finally
revealed—a sweet old woman with a pink
bow in her hair. This planted the seed for his
strong connection with his patients.
But it was one of the first weekends he put
his white coat on that resonated most. He was
observing in the ED when an elderly male
trauma patient from a motor vehicle crash was
rolled in. Asked to hold a catheter, he watched
in horror as blood gushed from the patient’s
James Dunford, MD, became the medical director
of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department in 1986
and the city of San Diego’s medical director in 1997.
Photo courtesy James Dunford