Faculty Profile: Dr. Gareth Eck

Gareth Eck, MS-35   

One former medical student recalls seeing that written on the board beside his own name (“Drew Lewis, MS-3”) – a board for the nurses and scrub techs to attach a name and year to the student present in the surgical suite.  “Well I think I’m still a student!” laughs Dr. Gareth Eck, Surgery Clerkship Site Director for UAMS Northwest. 

A 1979 graduate of UAMS, Dr. Eck has practiced general surgery at Fayetteville Surgical Associates since 1984.  With the program since the first medical students started on the satellite campus in 2009, the Viral Feed sat down with Dr. Eck to take a look back, a look forward, and a look at why he feels better about the future of medicine because of the Northwest campus.

VF:  If not a surgeon, you would be a…

GE:  When I was younger, I wanted to be a fighter pilot in Vietnam.  Thank goodness that didn’t work out!  I got married when I was in school and had a baby.  I did apply to the Air Force Academy and to West Point out of high school, but I decided to drop that.  I would have gone in after finishing my degree at the U of A.

What degree was that? 

Marketing! [laughs]  More flimflam, I think.  Some say that comes in handy.  But it was good – I had economics and accounting and that helps run a business, because after all, this is a business in addition to being health care.  But then I went back to get a degree in something science related – zoology.  Works much better for medical school! [laughs]

Do you wish you had this kind of learning environment [the longitudinal curriculum employed on the Northwest campus]?

Yes!  I think it’s working out well.   I trained at Baylor.  When I thought back to how the interns and residents were treated there, it’s similar to how the students on this campus are treated here.  It ends up being more of an intense learning experience, but much more enjoyable because you’re not just holding up a retractor or being excluded from a case.  In medical school, I would have loved this.  I didn’t get to do a lot of hands-on. They get to do that a lot more here. 

In previous focus groups, surgery is one of our medical students’ favorite clerkships up here.  Why do you think that is?

It’s probably because of surgery – what’s not to love about surgery?  To me, the best thing about surgery and why I was attracted to it to begin with is the fact that you get immediate feedback.  I constantly get tremendous feedback from my patients.  Just today, there was a patient who had rectal cancer back in 2008.  They were told they needed an abdominal perineal transection and was sent to me for a second opinion.  I thought it was a T1 or T2 lesion and told them we could do a transanal incision, then radiation and chemotherapy.  So they picked that.  Today we scoped [the patient.]  They are now over four years from the diagnosis and there’s no evidence of any cancer – anywhere.  And that family is just so appreciative…and you know you made a huge difference in somebody’s life. 

Surgery is just like that…having the students share in that and the joy of that is just even more rewarding. 

Any favorite stories?

I remember lots of stories about the students – some probably best not told here!

Well, I used to have PA [physician assistant] students from Harding before the medical students started up here.  It seemed like we had fainting quite regularly.  When these students started, I was a little nervous.  But not a single one has done that.   I think they’re ready for surgery when they come.  For me, it’s as natural as breathing, but not to everybody. 

What have the students taught you?

They’re really a joy to work with.  I can’t say enough good about them.  They’re their best ambassadors.  They want to learn and are willing to work hard to do it.  As far as teaching me something, I feel much better about my future as an old person with these new doctors coming up. Northwest Arkansas has benefited from the medical school coming up here. 

I understand you have said that you receive more than you give of these students.

That’s true.  I’m sort of silver-haired, later in my career.  This has been rejuvenating to have young people around to work with.  It does challenge things.  You know, medicine changes over the years, and if you don’t keep current and keep up to date, it’s easy to be in a rut.  The students have been extremely beneficial to me and I appreciate the chance to be associated with them. 

The feeling is mutual, Dr. Eck. ¤