A Doctor’s Journey From the Bayou to the Emergency Room

June 9, 2020 Updated: June 19, 2020

Many of us have had interesting life trajectories, and couldn’t have predicted where we are today. For Dr. Lorrie Metzler-Szabo, her journey started in rural Louisiana just outside New Orleans and took her to the emergency room in Orange County, California.

Metzler-Szabo looks back on her childhood fondly. She lived in St. Bernard Parish, just southeast of New Orleans Parish on the bayou, and grew up with a loving family in humble circumstances. She and her family had a cabin in Hopedale, which was only accessible by boat. There was no electricity and no running water, but she had some of her most memorable experiences out there.

From a very young age, she learned how fish for crabs and shrimp, and she and her family would cook pretty much everything they caught. One of her fondest memories was when her father gave her baby alligators to hold in her own hands. Whether they were fishing, cooking, or shooting, she was always taught to be self-reliant.

“I guess I got to see a lot of things that other children today really wouldn’t see,” Metzler-Szabo said.

News and Photography

When Metzler-Szabo was a young college student she won the Miss Louisiana competition in 1975. She relished the opportunity to meet new people and be a representative and spokeswoman for her state. She has always enjoyed competition, and set high goals for herself throughout her life.

Metzler-Szabo graduated from Loyola University in 1977 with a degree in communications and became a television news reporter. She found the profession both honorable and exciting, and thought of news reporting as a public service.

After working as a television reporter for a year, she made her first career pivot and opened her own photography business in New Orleans. She had started experimenting with photography while working as a reporter, and decided to take a professional leap. She got to work at the 1984 World Fair in New Orleans, and her most memorable assignment was covering the 1988 Republican National Convention.

“I really, really wanted that assignment. Boy, did I go after it. I mean, I was tenacious,” Metzler-Szabo said.

Dr. Lorrie Metzler-Szabo
Dr. Lorrie Metzler-Szabo won the Miss Louisiana competition in 1975. (Courtesy of Lorrie Metzler-Szabo)

Metzler-Szabo had the opportunity to cover Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush for 11 days at the convention. Despite being a Democrat at the time, she was honored to be hired for the gig solely based on her skills as a photographer. She enjoyed being around exciting people and vividly remembers the opening ceremony.

“It’s something I’ll never forget. Everybody in the whole Superdome was crying. It was just such a beautiful, wonderful, patriotic moment,” Metzler-Szabo recalled.

Never Too Late

After working as a professional photographer for a decade, Metzler-Szabo made another big career change. Her first passion had always been biology, and she decided to go into medicine. She ultimately decided she wanted to become a doctor, but she had to go back to school to take her premed courses to get into medical school. Despite starting this career path at age 39, she found that she was more mature and a better student.

“People should never think it’s too late to change careers or never think it’s too late to pursue something that they really love or might want to do because they think age is a problem, because it is not,” Metzler-Szabo explained.

After a year and a half of pre-med courses, she applied to medical school and graduated on May 30, 1998. In 2005, she was finishing her residency when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. She had planned on pursuing a career in dermatology, but the city desperately needed emergency room doctors.

Dr. Lorrie Metzler Szabo
Lorrie Metzler-Szabo working in the emergency room at Chapman Global Medical Center in Orange County, Calif. (Courtesy of Lorrie Metzler-Szabo)

Metzler-Szabo never thought she would like working in the emergency room, but after her experience treating patients after the hurricane she discovered how much she enjoyed the work. She was a single mother at the time, and juggled her parenting responsibilities with her schedule as a doctor. Whenever she was able, she would take her son with her to work.

Throughout her career, Metzler-Szabo has had a rewarding experience. Not only has she been able to save lives, but she’s also been able to connect with patients on an emotional level. Even when she was a photographer, if she saw someone struggling, she had a habit of trying to comfort them and empathize with them.

“I’ve always been really sensitive to people’s feelings in all aspects of my life,” Metzler-Szabo said. Whenever patients in the emergency room feel scared and vulnerable, she feels like they could very easily be someone close to her and treats them as such. She tries to calm them down in any way she can, and is always honest with them.

“I start talking to them about them, and they like that,” Metzler-Szabo said.

Dr. Lorrie Metzler-Szabo
Dr. Lorrie Metzler-Szabo strives to connect with patients on an emotional level. (Courtesy of Dean Szabo)

Metzler-Szabo has had a particularly challenging time recently. Every procedure has become more difficult and complex as a result of the pandemic, and an already difficult job has become even more stressful. However, it’s been a rewarding time as well.

“I feel so honored to be able to help, especially at my age,” Metzler-Szabo said.