Dr. Dan Suiter said this week that COVID-19 pushed him into early retirement from his medical practice, but it did not push him out of the field of medicine. He still maintains an office in Pratt Medical Plaza at 420 Country Club Road.
Dr. Suiter spent his last working day of a four-decade gastroenterology practice with PIMG on March 19, succeeded by Dr. Brenda Westhoff.
“The traditional retirement reception for Dr. Suiter was pre-empted by COVID-19,” said Pratt Regional Medical Center President Susan Page.
“I live by the premise that science is the art of taking reality seriously,” said Dr. Suiter. “That tells me to always take what’s happening in a serious and scientific vein.”
COVID-19 presents unusual challenges to the medical world, Dr. Suiter said.
“In the influenza field, it’s fairly unusual,” Dr. Suiter said. “That people without symptoms can walk around spreading the virus is frightening.”
Since his official retirement, Dr. Suiter has been focusing his full-time efforts as principal investigator for clinical research in his role as president of Health Sciences Research Center, which he helped found in 2001 and which is also located at Pratt Medical Plaza.
“Clinical research allows some patients who participate to receive thousands of dollars of medications that are being tested,” Dr. Suiter said.
The research projects are based on a blind study in which some patients are given the drug being researched, while others receive a placebo. PIMG physician Dr. Alan Pribil works alongside Dr. Suiter in conducting the research studies.
Growing up in Macksville, Dr. Suiter said his interest in medicine was sparked as he watched his pharmacist mother Blanche Suiter fill prescriptions at the rural community’s drugstore, where she also worked the soda fountain.
Dr. Suiter graduated with a B.A. degree in microbiology from the University of Kanas, Lawrence, in 1967 and earned his M.D. from the University of Kansas in Kansas City in 1971.
It was at KU where Dr. Suiter linked up with St. John native Marcia Johnson in 1963. The couple exchanged wedding vows on June 5, 1965, at First Methodist Church in St. John.
Seven years later, Dr. Suiter’s Air Force military career took the couple and their toddler son Brent to Great Falls, MT, where Dr. Suiter was assigned as flight surgeon.
The couple’s second son Beatty, now a retina surgeon in Overland Park, was born in Great Falls in 1972, joining two-year-old Brent, now a software engineer living in Seattle, WA.
Aviation has continued to play a prominent role on both professional and personal fronts with Dr. Suiter keeping his Diamond Twin Star plane hangered and ready for takeoff at Pratt Regional Airport.
The Suiters have three granddaughters, Emily, 16, Sydney, 14 and Audrey, 12, who live with parents Beatty and Amy in Overland Park.
“One of our mutual joys is taking our granddaughters on flights,” Dr. Suiter said.
After returning to Kansas and joining PIMG in 1979, Dr. Suiter said he became interested in the political side of medicine, leading to his association with KAMMCO, headquartered in Topeka, a member-owned medical professional liability insurance company which sets the standards for advocacy, service and protection.
Dr. Suiter became active with Kansas Medical Society early in his career and this culminated in his being elected state president of KMS in 2003, followed by service as KAMMCO chairman of the board of directors from 2014 to 2017.
“Physicians have a target on their back,” Dr. Suiter said, referring to malpractice suits. “Most physicians during their career will have at least one law suit.”
Dr. Suiter credits the fact that he has not been subject to a lawsuit with the personal relationships that he has established with patients throughout his career.
“I’ve taken care of 50,000 lives over 40 years,” Dr. Suiter said. “Following any surgery, I gave my patient a cell phone with my 24-hour contact number pre-programmed and told them not to hesitate to call me with any concerns,” Dr. Suiter said,
Reflecting on his medical career, Dr. Suiter said he cherishes friendships with Dr. Barbara Cudney, who retired from PIMG in 2018, and with the late George Chandler, noted World War II ace pilot, who served as president of Pratt’s First National Bank for six decades.
Dr. Suiter has a painting on his office wall of two fighter planes from WW II era flying over the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s a famous painting around Pratt,” Dr. Suiter said. “The picture is a rendition of an air battle in which George Chandler participated. It was gifted to me by Doug and Kay Knight for care of a family member.”
Dr. Suiter said he took the picture with him when he went to visit Chandler at PRMC.
“He was asleep when I got there so I left the painting on his bedside table and when I returned to visit, he had autographed it,” Dr. Suiter said. “The painting will always hang on the wall of my office, no matter where my office happens to be located.”
For the foreseeable future, Dr. Suiter said he plans for his office to remain at PIMG. Those wishing to send well-wishes on his retirement may leave notes online at www.prmc.org, or send a handwritten card to Dr. Suiter, Pratt Internal Medicine Group, 420 Country Club Road, Pratt, Kansas 67124.