When you think of the family business, you usually think of farmers or merchants. For Thurston Bauer, his family has been in the business of medicine for generations. In fact, his grandfather, father, and uncle are surgeons – all of whom practice or have practiced at CHI St. Vincent. His mother and stepfather also practice medicine at CHI St. Vincent. Today, Dr. Bauer is continuing that tradition as a cardiac surgeon at the same hospital where his relatives made their mark, but his course to the surgery suite was a roundabout one.
“I took a bit of a circuitous path to cardiothoracic surgery,” he said. “I chose to pursue a medical career a year after I graduated from Colorado College with my bachelors in psychology. I worked in a coffee shop and then took a second job as an anesthesia tech at CHI St. Vincent that year then transitioned to be a scrub tech and got a taste of surgery. That was enough for me to change course.”
Dr. Bauer’s ambition had more to do with making a positive impact on the lives he was entrusted to treat than carrying on tradition. However, he was determined to stay in Little Rock to pursue a medical career.
“I wanted every day to matter,” he said. “I wanted to have an impact and do something to improve the lives of others, and I knew medicine would give me that satisfaction. I had been away from home for six years, and I was so determined to stay in Little Rock that I applied only to UAMS. I had lifelong, secondhand exposure to cardiac surgery through my father, but I was determined to find my own path. As I entered gross anatomy, I fell in love with the heart and cardiovascular physiology, and I found myself always going back to the heart when we were studying other organ systems.”
During this time, he and his wife, Hannah, were dating, and Dr. Bauer would tell her often that he would never be a surgeon. However, it was during his surgery clerkship that his life’s passion would be revealed.
“Within three days, I told Hannah we needed to talk. I wanted to be a surgeon. She could see my excitement and was very supportive. I told her not to worry though, because I would never be a cardiac surgeon. Famous last words.”
Dr. Tobler at UAMS mentored Dr. Bauer and allowed him to experience cardiac surgery with a fresh perspective. After only a couple operations, he says, he went home to tell Hannah he absolutely must become a cardiac surgeon.
“As always, she was supportive and became my greatest cheerleader. I threw myself into my studies and performed well through my clerkships and was overjoyed on match day when I was accepted into one of only six integrated cardiothoracic surgery residencies. In the fall of my sixth year, I was asked to come to Little Rock for an interview at CHI St. Vincent. For Hannah and me, it was a perfect fit, and we were overjoyed to accept a position here to join a heart failure cardiologist to start a brand new LVAD program. Since arriving, I have been overcome by the incredible assets St. Vincent has in its employees. I know with this team that we are well equipped for success, and we will be able to improve the lives of many of the good people of Arkansas.”
As if being a husband, cardiac surgeon and the surgical director of Advanced Heart Failure and Mechanical Circulatory Support at the Jack Stephens Heart Institute at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary weren’t enough, Dr. Bauer finds time to golf, hunt, shoot sporting clays and bicycle.
“I haven’t had much time to do these things over the last six years in residency, but I am excited about starting this program,” he said. “I truly believe CHI St. Vincent will capture an ever-growing portion of the cardiac surgery market over the next five years if we make an investment to build on our momentum.”