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Member Spotlight: Dr. John Sudkamp Is Right Where He Wants to Be


@John Sudkamp took a circuitous route to anesthesiology following a stint in the Navy and a two-year hitch as a surgery resident. He’s since landed right back where he started, near his hometown in south-central Illinois, where he now practices in a community hospital serving the surrounding rural area. In this ASA Community Member Spotlight, he shares what he’s learned along the way.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice. What drives you as an anesthesiologist?

I have been in the Effingham, IL, area my entire life, except for my time in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, medical school, and residency. My path to becoming an anesthesiologist was very non-traditional to say the least. Six years in the Navy, then completion of my Bachelor of Health Sciences and then off to medical school. Two years in surgery residency taught me many skills that I carried forward into my anesthesiology residency at St. Louis University. I believe that because anesthesia covers all aspects of medicine and the need to combine the mental power, dexterity, and physical skills to assist our patients was the principal reason for love of the field.

After residency, I rejoined my wife and three children to start practice at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham. As a community hospital in a rural area with two crossing interstates, we service a full spectrum of patients. It is my pleasure to help facilitate the arrival of a new life, and my duty to treat those patients and family members at life’s end with the greatest empathy and respect. Being the oldest of 11 and having over 30 nieces and nephews, I truly love taking care of pediatric patients.

It has been my privilege to service the community and keep our facility at the front edge of current patient care. With the full participation of the Anesthesia department, HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital has earned status as a Center of Excellence for Total Shoulders and Advanced Center of Excellence for Total Hips and Knees. I have also been a mainstay in the system conversion to AIMS and ERAS protocol implementation. I also enjoy the few, but poignant opportunities to teach anesthesia team members, medical students, our local nursing students, and high school Health Occupations students.

From your home base in south-central Illinois, you serve a significant rural population. What would you most like your colleagues to know about working with rural patients and their particular needs?

The needs of our patients are not that different from those in an urban or suburban area. We have similar health problems of heart disease, substance use/ abuse, obesity, diabetes, trauma, non-compliance, and mental illness. The prevalence of any one issue may vary, but we treat the whole patient.

Working in a rural environment may require a little more reflection on what are the essential equipment needs and what is the essential information you need from others to accomplish your case. You also have to think more about the post-surgical care that will be needed since not all of the special care options are available in-house. The patient having a serious complication or need of extensive care may mean a helicopter ride or a several hour road trip for the patient. The question of should vs. could is a common topic.

What I feel is different is the attitude towards physicians in general. Whether or not the patient wants to seek care for a problem, there is a healthy deference towards the opinion of the physician regardless of their specialty. The patient expects you to be the expert in your phase of care and to do your job well. They also do not enjoy expansive detailed explanations of all the risks. Another peculiarity is that if they have come seeking care, it’s not going to be a simple or early presentation. With two crossing interstates, we get a multitude of travelers, over-the-road truckers especially, with acute health problems that we treat also. There have been many times that the dial-up translation service or (though I personally have never used it for patient care) Google Translate has been an immense help.

For the most part, working in a smaller community means you interact more with your patients and staff outside of work more than at a larger facility. And you could be easily related or become related to the staff and patients.

In 2018 you traveled to Guinea as part of a medical mission trip organized by Mercy Ships. What was your experience, and would you recommend it to others? Any advice for those who are thinking of embarking on a similar mission?

Participating in the Mercy Ships Mission has been a life changing event for me. The donation of my time and skills rather than just my treasure was a great renewal for my appreciation of my love of anesthesia. Since the entire mission is based in a country for longer than two weeks or a month, longer care plans and activities can be accomplished. In addition, there is a heavy focus to train local health care providers to serve their populations better.

I served for two weeks with a multinational anesthesia team, and I participated in operations for conditions that I only read about before. But the patients had been medically optimized prior to presentation to the operation theater. They are functioning as a Perioperative Surgical Home for multiple surgical specialties. The patients are immensely grateful for the care they are given, and they show it at all times.

I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially to those who are beginning to wonder if what they do matters. Especially now that the new vessel is online, I would love to get back. The biggest advice I would give to someone planning to go would be to ensure that you allow a readjustment time on your return.

You’re a member of the Society for Technology in Anesthesia (STA). What do you think is the role of technology and innovation in the specialty, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic?

Technology and innovation are the driving force behind the safety of anesthesia care today. I genuinely enjoy being a member because of the exchange of ideas that occur at the meetings. I also have relationships with leaders in academic and research that I would not have in a small practice setting. Seeing the development of products both hardware and software that expand patient safety and better applications of the data available in our information streams and challenging the developers to make their useful product practical and available to small practices is exciting to me.

Anesthesia rarely gets product development as a solo specialty, but we are quite affected by the novel medications and surgical techniques and we must evolve around these scenarios. A particular evolving problem for me is that the newer focus is on big data and its impact on anesthesia. While I understand the concepts, I get lost in the minutia, but I can see the impact it will have on my practice and want to make it practical to all small practices.

During the height of the pandemic, the STA members had an open exchange of information on how to repurpose anesthesia machines as long-term ventilators, how to share one machine between two patients, evaluation of novel devices for patient and staff safety, and how 3D printing could be used to overcome specific problems. I’m sure that the big data people are currently working on articles and research on the impacts of COVID-19 to the anesthesia world.

You’re also active in your state component, the Illinois Society of Anesthesiologists. How did you first get involved, what’s your current role, and how do you think your participation helps make you a better physician and/or moves the specialty forward?

I became involved in the state society shortly after starting practice in Effingham. I went to the meeting looking to earn some CME’s and was intrigued by the following. The president of the society was from Peoria, IL and talked about the challenges facing the downstate practice. Also, I was asked my opinion by several ISA Board and other members about these challenges and their impact. I have remained involved since.

Currently, I am a section chair in the 4th district of Illinois. District 4 covers more than 80% of the landmass of Illinois and my section covers basically from I-70 south to the state lines. I remain active on several committees and participate regularly in the Board meetings.

Participation in our legislative days and events has helped me advocated to the advantages of physician led, team anesthesia care. Also, interaction with members that are at the residency programs keeps me abreast of changes in our specialty.

Is there anything you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed?

I would encourage our society to promote more interaction between residents and small rural practices. Life in a small community has its unique challenges, but the rewards can be enormous. I realize that the economic difficulties generated by the lack of passthrough to physicians can be a factor in practice management, but the patients in rural areas need, nay deserve, the expertise and care that our members can provide.

John C. Sudkamp, MD, lives in Sigel, IL, with his wife of 30 years, Hope Knauer, MD.  They have three adult children and are currently fostering four teenage children. He works at HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, IL, where he has served as Director of Anesthesia Services since 2011.  He is currently active in the ASA, Illinois Society of Anesthesiologist, Society for Technology in Anesthesia and the Effingham County Medical Society. Dr. Sudkamp is a member of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church and the Sigel Knights of Columbus.


ASA Community Blog is published as a benefit for ASA members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributing writers only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ASA.