Five questions with Dr. John L. Currie

December 16, 2012 

You are an OB/GYN, an oncologist and an attorney. How did you come to put all of those specialities together?

After medical school, I chose general surgery as my specialty. Unfortunately, the draft board would not let me complete residency until I did my military time (all doctors were required to serve in the armed services -- it was during the Vietnam War) so I switched to OB/GYN and was allowed to finish residency. I was proud to serve in the Air Force after residency and I still remember the excitement in our hospital when the POWs from that war returned to the United States.

After four years of private practice I did a fellowship in gynecologic oncology which is more of a surgical specialty, and until I came to Columbus three years ago, I was in academic medicine and practiced in major teaching hospitals. Along the way, I had the opportunity to go to law school, and actually practiced law part time in Hanover, N.H.

But, in our law practice, all the medical malpractice cases came my way, and I didn't particularly like it, as that branch of law is more about "a dog and pony show" and not about law and the truth. So, I'm still a member of the New Hampshire bar but on inactive status. But I practice full time as a gynecologic oncologist at The Medical Center, Doctors Hospital and the Amos Cancer Center.

What is your impression of the Columbus medical community?

Overall, the medical community is made up of some excellent physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals. My own health issues (everybody has some at my age) are taken care of by Columbus physicians and I feel that I have received expert care.

As noted, all of my work the last 35 years has been in teaching hospitals in large academic centers. Thus, I have been struck with the divisiveness of the local hospitals and how they compete rather than work together. This of course means higher costs because of duplication of services.

For instance, when I was being recruited, there was talk of a cooperative woman's health center which could be a center of excellence for the community. But instead of working together with The Medical Center, St. Francis (where I do not have privileges) chose to apply for their own obstetrics unit, even though The Medical Center has the only level III neonatal nursery (high risk), which is necessary for a truly top flight obstetrical service.

Another example is that both hospitals insisted on having robotic surgery capabilities, another costly duplication that statistics have proven (with certain exceptions) does not improve the quality of care and outcomes, but really only allows better marketing, increased costs of care, and sometimes (unfortunately) unnecessary procedures.

What has been the most satisfying part of your work in Columbus and at the Amos Cancer Center?

This has been my first experience in a community cancer center, and I can say without a doubt that the Amos Cancer Center is truly top notch, and I love going to work there.

It is rare that we have to refer patients to other medical centers. We have excellent radiation oncologists, hematologists, medical oncologists, nurses and pharmacists and it is a real treat to walk across the hall or down the stairs and directly consult with them, which means much better care for our patients.

Further, the administration allowed me to directly supervise our nurse, nurse practitioner and office coordinator; this means we work as a family together taking care of patients, and the patients appreciate that everyone knows who they are and what their problems are.

For patients with serious disease, this personalized approach is vital to their care. And the three women who work with me are perhaps the best team I've ever had! At the Amos Cancer Center, we also have an up-to-date research department and, after a two-year hiatus before I came, we were able to rejuvenate the research clinical trials in gynecologic oncology and currently have a dozen or more patients on clinical trials.

Finally, the most satisfying part of my job is all the wonderful patients, who face cancer with bravery, grace, and even charm.

Your son, John, is a very successful athletics director at Kansas State. How closely do you follow his athletic program?

As you know, this is SEC territory and my daily read of the Ledger-Enquirer rarely contains any mention of the sports scene in Manhattan, Kan. I do get a frequent e-mail update from the K-State sports information staff, which includes a weekly letter from my son to all the supporters as well as information and stories about all the sports on campus.

And I'm looking forward travelling to the Fiesta Bowl January 3, where I expect I'll have a pretty good seat to watch the Wildcats hopefully cop a victory.

What is the best kept secret in Columbus?

The big secret in my medical world -- as a newcomer I'm pretty confined to medical issues -- is in actuality an unknown, sort of an evolving secret: how will the new administration at The Medical Center make changes for the better?

It is no secret that the previous administration was not doctor friendly, and adopted the philosophy that doctors are like canned goods in the grocery store -- you just go the shelf and pick one out at the price you are willing to pay. Hopefully, the new leadership will not continue that mode, as no quality medical center can exist without strong medical leadership and an administration that nurtures physicians to create and build innovative and clinically useful programs.

Unfortunately, my recent experience mirrors the 1840 John Milton poem, the last line of which was "New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large." Hopefully, my clash is an anomaly, and the doctor friendly promise will be fulfilled. The recent association with Mercer Medical School should help, but until administration walks hand in hand with strong physician leadership, the quality of care that Columbus deserves will be a difficult goal to achieve.

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