From infants with severe infections to teenagers with traumatic injuries, patients and their families come first for Dr. Marvin Hall, a pediatric critical care specialist at the Children's Hospital at Erlanger.
Hall is Children's associate medical director for patient safety and quality and one of six pediatric intensivists in the region's only pediatric intensive care unit, which treats seriously ill and injured young patients from a 100-mile area 24/7.
In addition to his 25 years of critical care experience at Erlanger, Hall helps teach medical students and residents — new doctors in training — as an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga, where he's known as the "custodian of scientific evidence."
"They call me the evidence guy. That's one of my big things — don't go with your gut, go with the evidence," Hall says, adding that the opportunity to teach was one of the primary reasons he chose Erlanger over another health system.
He's a two-time recipient of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga resident teaching award and a former interim chairman for the department of pediatrics. He also served as interim medical director of the Children's Hospital for six years.
Hall's reputation as a physician, colleague and mentor to the next generation of doctors has earned him the 2019 Champions of Health Care Academic Physician Award.
"He's by far one of the most professional and caring physicians I've ever met. Every day I work with him, he makes me a better doctor," Dr. Gregory Talbott, director of Erlanger's pediatric intensive care unit, said in an email. "He's completely dependable and is the kind of doctor that if I had a sick kid, I would want him to take care of my kid."
During high school, Hall was immersed in band and began to "test the waters" in medicine working as an orderly at what is now Roane Medical Center in his hometown of Harriman, Tennessee, 40 miles west of Knoxville.
He contemplated a career in music. But, having already become famous as the only known saxophone player to make All-State Band with two broken arms [from a fall in his high school gym], Hall hung up his instrument to study biology as a Brock Scholar in the Honors College at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, graduating valedictorian in 1979.
He planned to join the Air Force to fund his medical school aspirations, but instead was awarded a prestigious Robert W. Woodruff Fellowship. The scholarship covers full tuition and a stipend for four years at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Accomplishments: A pediatric critical care specialist, Dr. Hall was the 1979 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga valedictorian and winner of the Robert W. Woodruff Fellowship at Emory University medical school. He has provided critical care at Erlanger for 25 years, including six years as the interim medical director at the Children’s Hospital.
In medical school, Hall was drawn to complex cases in internal medicine, particularly infectious diseases, cardiology and trauma surgery, but he loved the patients in pediatrics.
"Ultimately, I think pediatric critical care has allowed me to do both," he says. "I get to take care of kids, and I take care of really sick patients that require a lot of intensive effort, commitment and thought."
Although the two fields are sometimes confused, what separates pediatric critical care from neonatology is whether or not a baby has left the hospital, Hall says. Pediatric intensive care unit patients can range from infants to young adults.
"It's very broad, and that's one of the great things about it," he says. "Pediatric intensivists really are generalists, because we take care of all different organs, all different diseases, deal with all the different subspecialists, but in a very focused group of patients. In one bed may be a 13-year-old whos been in an ATV crash and has a head injury, the next bed may be a baby with meningitis, the next one has bronchiolitis and respiratory failure."
Pediatric intensivists are the unit's "administrators of care," incorporating the perspectives of subspecialists and arbitrating decision making to look at patients holistically.
"When I tell people I do intensive care, a typical response would be, 'That must be so hard,'" Hall says. "'Patients do die in the intensive care unit — not all that often — but certainly it happens
"On the reverse side of that, one of the most gratifying things is seeing kids come in really, really sick but with a great deal of attention, focus and therapy, they oftentimes leave there like kids and go on to be good citizens for the rest of their lives. In that sense, I think I have the best job in the world."
The team of doctors, nurses, respiratory care staff, administrators and pediatric leaders are what makes it all possible, he says, and "working with them is an honor and pleasure."
Hall is eager for the next phase of Erlanger's new children's hospital, which he says will bring some much-needed upgrades to the pediatric intensive care unit.
When he's not in the hospital, there's a good chance Hall is somewhere along the Cumberland Trail from Signal Mountain to Edwards Point, spending time with sons — Jonathan, David, Matthew — or on a faraway, overseas adventure with his wife, Theresa.
"He's such a solid family guy, and he does lots of work for the community, including a lot of child advocacy work," Gregory said. "I can say he's a great friend and an awesome coworker — utterly dependable. He would give you the shirt off his back. I don't know anyone who has spent as much of their free time working for the children's hospital as he has."
Tickets to the Champions of Health Care Awards luncheon on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at The Westin, are available at this link.