Beyond Seeing Patients: Rewards of a Career in Medicine

(From the August 2018 Issue of MedStat)

Primary Care Matters is a guest column written for MedStat by a local pediatrician or primary care provider.

Written by Miller J. Sullivan, Jr., MD

Dr. Miller Sullivan received his medical degree at the University of South Carolina. He completed his residency at Nationwide Children’s and was a chief resident in pediatrics. He is with Provider Physicians East and has been on the medical staff since 1991.

Miller SullivanMy initial career goals while going to college were to get an advanced degree after graduation in some basic science discipline, do some basic science research, teach at a post-college level and interact with trainees. I accomplished that and do have a degree in Anatomy and taught medical and graduate students for over six years. While this was very satisfying, I periodically found myself involved in certain clinical scenarios with my students which I greatly enjoyed. This prompted me to re-evaluate things and I decided to pursue a career in clinical medicine.

I started my training and then practice in Pediatrics over 30 years ago, and I have tremendously enjoyed primary care and found this to be very satisfying. While I always have tried to be involved with many related subjects outside of the office, I never envisioned doing something significantly different in medicine. However, 18 years ago I was given the opportunity to work with our local Franklin County Public Health department as their medical director. Like many of the health departments in the state, they were looking for a part time physician to fill this role. In many cases these positions are filled by physicians who practice in the communities they serve. While I embarked on this endeavor with some trepidation, because I did not have formal public health training, it has not been difficult to learn and get appropriate training in these areas.

Most of what I do at the health department is administrative, but I do interact with the community along with the public health staff to help promote wellness in the population. I am under direct supervision of the Board of Health, but mostly work with the health commissioner and directors of Nursing and Environmental Health and their associated staffs.

In general, I provide medical direction and expertise for the health department. I am involved with developing policies, procedures and programs, as well as implementing them. I provide guidance and work with the nursing staff on numerous things including childhood and adult immunizations, communicable disease control and surveillance, the Children with Medical Handicaps program, school health, health promotion in the community, etc. I write standing orders for our vaccine clinics, provide prescriptions for prophylaxis for people without primary care doctors for such things as Pertussis or Meningococcus exposures, review certain employee health data and occasionally order testing or review results. I contribute to our plans for emergency preparedness and disaster response and other environmental health issues. I have participated in the response to several outbreaks, including H1N1, Pertussis, Legionella, etc. I also attend various meetings, but this is not onerous. I have met and interacted with numerous people including politicians, physician and community leaders and the general populace. I routinely get to help educate medical residents, nursing students and other public health students. I also am asked to talk with the media at times, including TV, radio and newspaper interviews. Those encounters are actually fun to do.

The bottom line is that this opportunity has provided me with something completely different than what I do on a daily basis at my office. Most of it is enjoyable, sometimes exciting and I think I have provided something to the department and community. I have certainly learned a lot and feel very enriched personally and professionally because of my experiences. The people I have met there are wonderful and hard working. They do a lot behind the scenes to keep all of us healthy. My perspective on the role and importance of public health has greatly expanded. My professional life and development is certainly better because of this.

Finally, I would like to urge any of you reading this to consider taking a step outside of the box that you normally inhabit, if given the opportunity. It doesn’t have to be medical related, it certainly doesn’t have to be with public health, but you are liable to discover that if you do, your life will be enriched. I also want to thank Dr. Annemarie Sommer, a former board of health member, whom many of you know, who got me started on this unexpected journey.

The opinions and policies expressed in MedStat are those of its contributors, and are not necessarily the opinions or policies of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Nationwide Children's Hospital does not endorse or recommend any specific opinions, policies, tests, physicians, products, procedures, or other information that may be mentioned in MedStat. The content made available on MedStat, such as text, graphics, images, and other material contained on the website are for general educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any content provided by MedStat is solely at your own risk.