Portrait of Dr. Dave Vearrier and Dr. Laura Vearrier
Dr. Dave Vearrier, professor of emergency medicine, and Dr. Laura Vearrier, associate professor of emergency medicine, joined the UMMC faculty in March 2020.
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People of the U: Dr. Dave and Dr. Laura Vearrier

Published on Wednesday, October 21, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins

Editor's Note: Front and Center is part of an ongoing series featuring UMMC's faculty, staff and students. See more Front and Center features.

A concoction of finely crushed aspirin and caffeine, poured into a paper slip for easy application to the tongue, is a go-to headache elixir for Southerners.

For Dr. Dave Vearrier, a California native who had recently begun work as a University of Mississippi Medical Center Emergency Department physician, it was a flat-out mystery.

“One of the residents was talking about his patient using a BC Powder at home prior to coming to the ED,” Vearrier remembered. “I’d never heard of a BC Powder before. I thought I had lost my mind because I had no idea what they were talking about.”

It’s just one Deep South staple that Vearrier and his wife, Dr. Laura Vearrier, have run across since beginning work in UMMC’s Adult ED in March. The others – warm hospitality, an abundance of smiles, friendly conversation – also make a body feel good.

Both were emergency medicine physicians at the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia when they were invited to interview by Dr. Alan Jones, former UMMC Department of Emergency Medicine chair who now serves as assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs. Hahnemann University Hospital, Drexel’s historic 171-year-old teaching hospital, was closing, leaving the jobs of Drexel’s clinical faculty in limbo.

“We looked for jobs in the area, but we had the realization that our oldest at the time was 6,” said Laura, a Philadelphia native. “We weren’t tied to the area because of our jobs or because our (three) kids were older.

“I wanted to be some place a little warmer. We threw out a broad net.”

Neither envisioned a move to Mississippi, “but when we came down here, we absolutely loved it,” Laura said. “One of the biggest things, to me, was the faculty. A number of female faculty are in positions of leadership. That was a big factor to me.”

“I really liked that the residents and faculty seemed to have a great sense of purpose in taking care of the entire state,” Dave said. “I saw there was a lot of motivation and drive to be the best. The research mission was stronger than a lot of the institutions we had looked at.”

They accepted jobs in November 2019 and moved to Madison in late December 2019 so that the kids could get started in school for the spring. They began work right in time for the first wave of COVID-19 patients.

Like many new faculty, the Vearriers bring rich experiences and unique talents to the Medical Center.

After receiving his B.A. in history and psychology from the University of California-Berkeley in 2000, Dave earned his M.D. at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine. He had emergency medicine residency training and a medical toxicology fellowship at Drexel. 

On faculty in the Division of Medical Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine, in the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network from 2010-11, Dave joined Drexel’s faculty in 2011. He earned his master of public health there and had residency training in occupational medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine from 2013-15.

After receiving her B.A. in molecular biology from Princeton University in 2003, Laura earned her M.D. at Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson Medical College. She had residency training in emergency medicine at Drexel. She joined the Drexel faculty in 2012, then received her M.A. in bioethics and health policy in 2016 and her doctor of bioethics in 2018 from the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at Loyola University in Chicago.

Dave is a medical toxicologist and on the team at UMMC’s Mississippi Poison Control Center. Laura, a certified health care ethics consultant, “jumped right into the pandemic and assisted with revisions of our policies surrounding the use of scarce resources,” said Dr. Kendall McKenzie, professor and chair of Emergency Medicine. “She brings to the table a vast knowledge of bioethics that has been much used during the past few months.”

“The leadership really stepped up and implemented a lot of changes very quickly in order for us to respond to the crisis,” Laura said. “It spoke a lot to the reasons that we decided to come here.”

“I feel very fortunate that we are able to offer care to patients pretty rapidly after arrival compared to some of the larger cities,” Dave said. “They are overwhelmed.”

Also a plus: Their shifts usually coincide. They often ride in to work together, and they found a nanny to help care for a very busy family: Juliette, now 7; Camille, 4; and Quentin, 2.

“I find trying to parent three children much more confusing and difficult than work,” Dave joked. “At least at work, I know what I’m doing.” 

The ED, though, has offered up a learning curve. Early on, “I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. Down here, they have a lot of snakes, ATVs and guns,” Laura said. “For me, snakebite was something I studied for a board exam.” 

“There are a surprising number of ATV accidents and crashes, especially in patients who are intoxicated,” Dave said.

“And, in younger patients. It’s tragic,” Laura said.

“Laura and Dave are both fantastic emergency medicine physicians, but their contributions to our department do not end there,” McKenzie said. “Dave is double boarded in emergency medicine and toxicology and has significant experience in administrative oversight of fellowship training in toxicology.  He is making great use of that experience by developing a toxicology fellowship program here at UMMC.” 

There’s not much time for hobbies between kids and work. “I do like to cook anything and everything, from grilling to pastas to taco night,” Dave said.

“My hobby tends to be photography, but it’s photography of the kids,” Laura said.

“I will say that the whole Southern hospitality thing is so true,” Dave said. “If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said it was a myth. People are so kind and open, and so much more willing to smile.”

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