1976 is when Dr. Ramayya Gowda began his career with Graham Hospital.

Part of the reason is the people. It’s different here. I always say to my residents it’s not a business, it’s more of a relationship.-Dr. Ramayya Gowda


CANTON-1976 is when Dr. Ramayya Gowda began his career with Graham Hospital.


July 31 he is retiring.


An initial first impression reveals he loves what he does and genuinely loves his patients.


His eyes light up as soon as he begins talking about his long, successful career and the patients he’s treated, “After 43 years you could say this is a new chapter, but I say it’s a new book.”


From the age of 5 or 6 he knew he wanted to be a doctor, “My parents would say we need to have a doctor in the family. I never thought of anything else. I can’t imagine what I would have been if not a doctor. I never thought of anything else.”


Dr. Gowda’s interest in surgery started when his sister needed an appendectomy. 


“I think I was 17 years old and the surgeon knew my father. He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I would like to go into medicine. He said, ‘Hey, you need to be a surgeon!’ And, he brought me into the surgical suite during the operation with the mask and gown; something I had never seen or known about. And, that’s the time I decided I wanted to be a surgeon. That’s how it all began.”


The opportunity for Dr. Gowda to study in the United States arose because there was a significant physician deficit and a push to recruit doctors from other countries.


One of his friends encouraged him to take part in ECFMG (Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates).


It is a test given at the American Embassy.


The ride to the Embassy from his medical school, Government Medical College in Mysore, India, was about 300 miles, but he took the test and passed it.


After passing, he was given a booklet which contained a couple hundred hospitals he was eligible to apply, “I heard a lot about New York City so I decided to go.”


His goal was to come to the United States, receive an education then travel back to India.


All of his surgical training was done in New York.


Dr. Gowda performed his residency at St. Luke’s Hospital, Newburg;  Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx.


His fellowship took place at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx-Cardiothoracic/Vascular Surgery.


Dr. Gowda did his general surgical training after which he traveled back to India, “I went back to see how things were. When I went back it was so different from what I had been trained for. Infectious disease are so much more common in India. 


Here, gallbladder, cancer of the colon, lung cancer, it’s a totally different kind of thing. Also, I wanted to teach. It was not available to me there. I decided to come back (to the United States).”


Dr. Gowda said heart surgery was what he was most interested in. Following some thought, though, he knew his focus would have to be elsewhere, “Heart surgery was my favorite subject at that time, but I soon found, in the 70’s, cardiac surgery was just developing. It’s not like what we have today. If I did cardiac surgery I would not only do surgery, I would have to take care of the floor (patients). We didn’t have surgical residents and students and this kind of stuff. 


I looked at the whole issue and I realized if I did that I had to choose between a family and second I had to live in a big city. After a lot of debate I gave up cardiac surgery.”


Given his level of skill and talent, Dr. Gowda could have worked anywhere, but he had something else in mind, “I was looking for a small town. I was a little bit tired of big city life. A huge difference is that in New York City I lived in an apartment and I didn’t know who lived next door to me. You’re not supposed to have eye contact when you’re walking. If you say, ‘hello’, you must be a strange person, you must be from the Midwest,” he joked.


Dr. Gowda was leaning towards settling in a suburb of Chicago, but the-then administrator of Coleman Clinic, Harlan Crouch, continually reached out in an attempt to recruit him.


Following some intense wooing, Dr. Gowda decided to visit Canton, Coleman Clinic and Graham Hospital.


Speaking with some of the doctors, Dr. Gowda said he was impressed because they seemed to be on the cutting edge of medicine.


Kenneth Etcheson, administrator, took him on a tour of Graham, “He took me around the hospital. It looked pretty good. 


He took me to the surgery area. The surgery area he showed me was pretty depressing. It was totally unacceptable. But, then, he said to me, ‘I have to show you our new surgical suites.’”


What Etcheson showed him was bigger than the operating rooms in New York and equipped with the most state-of-the-art equipment.


Etcheson told Dr. Gowda since he was bringing a new specialty and new technology to Graham he would need a lot of new equipment.


Dr. Gowda agreed to which Etcheson replied, “Don’t worry about it. It will be here when you come here.”


“That’s called progressive administration. Bob (Senneff, current President and CEO) is the same way. That’s why the hospital is doing as well as it does. That clinched my decision,” explained Dr. Gowda.


He signed a one-year contract.Two years later he was able to pursue teaching, “I was able to join the faculty of the Illinois College of Medicine and started teaching. Ever since, I’ve been doing that.”


Six years ago, Dr. Gowda said they established a surgical residency program, “This is a program training the future surgeons. Now, second and third year surgical students come through here and stay with me for a month.”


He added they get a first hand look at a rural practice which is different than what they’ll see in Peoria or other larger cities.


“I really enjoy teaching. It’s one of the things that brought me here. We are fortunate to have a hospital like we have here. They are very progressive. They encourage new technology. When I came here almost 80 percent of the operations were done as in patient. If you had a hernia (repair) you were here three days in the hospital. But, with the improvement in technology today 75 percent  of the operations we perform are done as out patient.”


Technology has played one of the biggest parts in many of the changes in medicine over the last several years, “Technology has helped the medical field a great deal. In those days we had patient charts. We had to flip through the papers and look for their history—medications, operations they’ve had, all of that stuff—and on top of it physicians are well known for lousy handwriting, if I say so myself. 


Today is different. With my laptop I push a button and know the complete patient’s history. I know the medications. I know the last procedure done, their last visit and what I talked to them about. Everything is done with a push of a button.”


Dr. Gowda explained the same occurs in the operating room, “We rarely open the belly anymore-colon surgeries, hernia repairs, appendectomies, you name it. We do it with a few holes in the belly. By doing that, patient hospital stay goes down, pain goes down and the recovery goes down.”


A prestigious event took place at Graham in 1990 said Dr. Gowda, “You may be surprised to hear this, the first gallbladder surgery, laparoscopic, with the holes, in Central Illinois in 1990, we performed here at Graham Hospital.”


He went on to say when the notion of laparoscopic surgery first started floating around the medical community, the majority of physicians considered it a joke, “The first paper presented to the American College for Surgeons-everyone laughed at it. ‘It’s a joke. How can you make four holes, look in there and take the gallbladder out? It’s not possible!’ Everyone sitting in the audience laughed at it.”


Dr. Gowda said he and his partner at the time, Dr. Jack Gibbs, didn’t laugh. 


Rather, they started following the surgeon’s research and by the end of the second year the two doctors decided to get trained, “We  worked on pigs.”


That first operation at Graham took four hours, said Dr. Gowda, today, the same operation takes 20 minutes, “Not every gallbladder, but the average gallbladder we can do in 20 to 30 minutes. This is simply evolution of technique, evolution of equipment and the science and the surgeons who are trained in it. It was a huge advance.”


Beyond the medical aspect, Dr. Gowda reiterated his fondness for the small town setting, “The important thing is, I think is the hospital staff, the clinic staff, operating room staff; good thing about this small town is that they are all from here. When a patient comes here it could be a neighbor, it could be a friend, so the care is different. That’s the uniqueness I’ve seen. We have an excellent staff. It’s all teamwork. Some people think one person is doing it. They’re not. It’s all teamwork.”


Throughout his years at Graham he said he’s enjoyed his medical practice, “Part of the reason is the people. It’s different here. I always say to my residents it’s not a business, it’s more of a relationship. They (patients) appreciate us back and it’s the kind of thing I enjoy. 


Of course, I spend one-third of my time in surgery, really that’s my cherished area, but the other part is seeing patients; sit in the office and listen to them, listen to complaints and problems and try to figure out and then take them through the surgery. 


Surgery for most people is a very complex issue. They’re very concerned about it and it’s a huge thing to counsel them and give them as much information as possible. These kinds of things I really enjoy. Surgery is not just cutting. It’s a lot more than an operation.”


President/CEO Bob Senneff had high praise for Dr. Gowda, “I’ve had the pleasure to work with many very good physicians over the last 25 years as a hospital President/CEO, none finer than Ramayya Gowda.


He is the epitome of what a physician should be. 


A surgeon, a critical care physician, a scientist, a patient advocate, a hospital advocate, a community advocate; he has always been able to excel across a multitude of responsibilities.


From his training in New York City, he developed surgical and critical care skills that were/are literally world-class, doing things in Canton well before they were done in Peoria and much larger communities.


We have been truly blessed as a community to have had Dr. Gowda and his family choose Graham and Canton as a place to practice medicine, raise a family and be immersed in our community.


I wish Dr. and Connie Gowda a long, healthy and happy retirement. I have cherished his/their counsel and friendship.”


Dr. Gowda and his wife, Connie, have one son and two granddaughters.


His official retirement date is July 31, but he says he will stay on for the next three to four months though not in an official working capacity rather as a mentor and showing the guys around.


A retirement celebration in appreciation and honor of Dr. Gowda will be held Sunday, July 21, 1 to 4 p.m., with remarks from Dr. Gowda at 3 p.m., at The Venue Banquet Facility, 23 W. Pine St.