Dr. Suryakant Patel recently celebrated 40 years serving our community as a surgeon at University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center. But his career here may never have started if not for his remarkable level of persistence — a quality that has served him well over four decades.
Prior to coming to Southern Maryland, Patel spent three years in the U.S. Navy, first at Twenty Nine Palms and then at Camp Pendleton, both in Southern California. After earning his degree from the University of Baroda in his native India and serving residency at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C, Patel recalls that his time in residency and the three-year stint in the military “gave me a lot of confidence as a surgeon.”
As his enlistment was coming to an end and he was looking to enter practice, Patel saw a post for an opening at what was then the Physicians Memorial Hospital. He liked the idea of returning to the region. “I still remember seeing the advertisement,” he recalls, and he immediately replied asking that he be sent an application.
He didn’t receive a response.
But Patel wouldn’t be deterred. A friend from his residency days had started at another local hospital, and Patel joined the staff there. Still, he pursued his interests in the La Plata hospital. He drove to the hospital, went to the medical staff office, and got an application.
He pushed forward because he knew that “working here would be a great situation.” By now Patel was a board-certified surgeon — a signature accomplishment — and three of the four surgeons then on staff were close to retirement.
His interview took place in the boardroom — then in a room in the basement of the hospital, near what is now the cafeteria. After the interview he recalls that Dr. James Jarboe, who was senior surgeon and played a significant role in establishing the hospital, came out in the hall and offered him a position at the clinic Jarboe ran, which was adjacent to the hospital.
Since joining the hospital staff, Patel has served the hospital in many capacities, including as department chair, vice chief of staff and chief of staff. One overriding objective characterized his service in those capacities, and in work as a surgeon — “I wanted people to remember that I was for the highest standard of quality” in medical care, he said.
Patel used his influence to push toward establishing a medical review committee and a credentials committee. “Credentialing and quality go hand in hand,” he believes, and the establishment of the two committees helped ensure that the hospital continues to maintain the highest professional standards of care.
Noel Cervino, CEO of the La Plata hospital, believes that Patel’s commitment has benefitted both his patients, and the hospital.
“Patel has been a highly respected and dedicated surgeon since he first came to our hospital,” Cervino said. “In every capacity in which he has served the hospital he has been a forceful and persuasive advocate for our patients. I’m pleased that he continues to serve our hospital and our patients, and I am proud to call him my friend.”
Patel shows justifiable pride in his accomplishments over his career here, including being the first surgeon in Southern Maryland to perform laparoscopic surgery, a surgical diagnostic procedure used to examine the organs inside the abdomen. The use of the low risk, minimally invasive procedure has become common in the thirty years since he first performed it.
Looking back, Patel has many memories of patients during his tenure, but one stands out in particular.
“I was making rounds on 2 North, and a nurse asked me to examine a patient,” he recounts. The patient was a teenager who had intestinal distress, was gasping for breath, and was in shock. Patel made the determination that the patient needed immediate surgery, which revealed that the patient’s stomach had gone into the left chest and rotated 180 degrees and become gangrenous, as a result of a congenital defect in the patient’s diaphragm. The patient survived, thanks to the quick diagnosis and action taken by Patel, and was discharged a short time later.
Thirty years later, Patel encountered the former patient, who asked if the surgeon remembered him.
Patel looked at him for a second, and the patient identified himself as the one from the surgery decades past. It was a nice capstone, according to Patel, recalling that it was his “most dramatic case in 40 years” of being a surgeon.
Today, Patel continues to perform surgeries and works extensively with patients in the hospital’s wound healing center. He has some sound advice for young surgeons. “Do your job honestly and understand your limits,” he advises. “Recognize them and don’t go beyond” what you can do.
“You can always find help,” he says.