Dr. George Lucas champions 'human touch' in medicine
March 25, 2015
By Joe Stumpe
Back when Dr. George Lucas was giving young orthopedic surgeons their board exams, he'd always ask them what the patient they were discussing did for a living.
"If they couldn't tell me the patient's occupation, I knew they didn't know the patient," Lucas said. For Lucas, the human element in medicine was too important to get lost in the shuffle.
Lucas retired last month after a 50-year career as a hand surgeon and two stints as director of the orthopedic residency program at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita.
Lucas grew up in one of the poorest parts of the country, the southeast corner of Ohio that dips into the Appalachians. He didn't have a burning desire to be a doctor. In fact, the only exposure he had to medicine was the town doctor, a man Lucas calls "a regular guy" who played cards with his father.
Lucas' father died when he was 10. After that, he says, the doctor never charged his family. Years later, Lucas would do the same for patients who couldn't afford his services.
After jobs carrying coal to the school where his mother was janitor, and doing factory work, he attended Ohio University. He got the idea of pursuing medicine from classmates. Lucas was good at science and comfortable around people, and thought medicine "sounded interesting."
He earned his medical degree from George Washington University and then completed his residency at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Lucas practiced in Madison from 1965 to 1984, where he and his wife raised four children.
His expertise in the relatively new field of microsurgery led to his being recruited to Kansas by what was then the Wichita Clinic. Taking over the medical school's orthopedic residency program was not in Lucas' plans. But others suggested he apply. Lucas ran the program from 1989 to 2001, and again on an interim basis from 2009 to 2011.
Lucas has advice for young orthopedic surgeons: "Don't get wrapped up in the newest, fastest, shiniest gadget. It won't be long before something else will come along. Learn the basics." And be prepared to keep learning. Lucas says three of the procedures most common today weren't even taught when he was in school.
The worst thing a doctor can do, Lucas says, is focus on X-rays and lab reports and ignore the patient.
"You have to listen to the patient -- they're telling you the diagnosis. You have to lay your hands on the patient. Don't just examine their X-rays or lab reports. I'm very concerned that the human touch is getting lost in medicine."
His patients say Lucas practiced what he preaches.
Julie Bees, a concert pianist and music professor at Wichita State University, went to Lucas with a condition called a "trigger finger" on her right hand that kept it from extending fully. Not a huge problem for most people, but potentially devastating for her.
Lucas initially tried a conservative approach of physical therapy and injections. "As a concert pianist, I was afraid of surgery," Bees said. "He knew that."
But when that didn't work, Lucas did perform surgery.
"He cleaned me up, and in a couple days I was a hundred percent. It was wonderful."
Bees said she actually misses her office visits to Lucas. "He's a cool guy. He travels a lot his office has photographs of his trips."
As a volunteer with Orthopedics Overseas, Lucas traveled to Tanzania, Honduras, Butan, Cambodia and the Dominican Republic training local doctors in orthopedics. And just days after his retirement, he and his wife travelled to the East Coast, where their children and seven grandchildren live. They have also planned a trip to Antarctica
He's a big fan of music and the arts. In his younger days, he played trombone in a band of doctors called the Orthotones. Today he paints and is a patron of the WSU's Ulrich Museum, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music at the Barn.
Lucas hasn't exactly settled comfortably into retirement and thinks he might eventually teach part-time.
"So far, I hate it," he said with a smile. "I'm not much good at just sitting around. I have to find something to do, I think."
KU School of Medicine-Wichita