EDGE A bedside manner second to none: Dr. Peter Boehm Sr.

EDGE A bedside manner second to none: Dr. Peter Boehm Sr.

September 1st, 2018 by Joan McClane in EDGE

Dr. Peter Boehm Sr. is shown at Chattanooga Neurosurgery and Spine on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

Champions of Health Care

In our third annual edition of Champions of Health Care, Edge magazine received nearly 200 recommendations from the public about health care providers, administrators and volunteers who are making health care better in Chattanooga.

From among those nominations, a panel of judges comprised of top leaders from the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Medical Society and each of Chattanooga's three major hospital systems — Erlanger Health System, CHI Memorial Hospital and Parkridge Health System — picked nine winners in eight different classifications of health care.

The Champions of Health Care award winners this year have tackled major community health problems, started or promoted programs to better coordinate care and expanded initiatives for wellness and disease detection. Others are recognized for new approaches, strong leadership and simple acts of kindness during their lifetimes of achievement and service. In a variety of volunteer and professional roles across many of Chattanooga's major health care institutions, the honorees have distinguished themselves and the community for improving the health of individuals and Chattanooga as a whole.

This year's Champions of Health Care will be honored at an awards luncheon at The Chattanoogan on Wednesday, September 5.

For decades, Dr. Peter Boehm Sr. has brought a consistent calm to high-stakes operations involving the brain and spine in Chattanooga.

Five years ago, Dr. Boehm, one of the city's most experienced neurosurgeons, retired from Chattanooga Neurosurgery and Spine Group. Yet even though he isn't on-call on nights and weekends anymore, his schedule is still packed with surgeries.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Honors health care leaders who have left a legacy on the quality and diversity of health care in Chattanooga

Achievements: Carrying on the family legacy of health care started by his father, Dr. Walter Boem, Peter Boehm Sr. is one of Chattanooga’s most experienced neurosurgeons continues to serve.

The 70-year-old scrubs in as a first assistant most days of the week, especially when his son, Dr. Peter Boehm Jr., is the primary neurosurgeon working. Those who work beside him say Dr. Boehm is a soothing and comforting presence in life-or-death situations when choices are critical.

"Not only does he think about the patient first, he thinks about the team working with him. He is an excellent communicator. He just has a lot of compassion about the people he is working with. At the end of every case he always says, 'Good work team.' He starts the day, "Hello girls! How are we today?' Always with a smile," said Donna Henderson, a certified surgical technologist at Erlanger Hospital who has worked with Dr. Boehm in countless surgeries over the years.

Dr. Boehm continues to scrub in for surgeries because he loves the work, he said, and the people the work serves.

"A lot of this is the satisfaction of dealing with people and getting to know them and getting them better," he said. "It is more fun for a surgeon to get to know the people in the families. The thought that you have to be cold and calculated to deal with some of the bad results, that is foolish. I get to know families well and suffer with them. You learn to love someone and move onto the next case. It isn't a burden. It's a joy. Patients deal with adversity beautifully. They have no option.

"It has been a satisfying, fun life and it continues. I don't know what I would do if I retire."

It is a love that has been passed down, generation to generation.

Dr. Boehm's father, Dr. Walter E. Boehm, was one of Chattanooga's first neurosurgeons. In 1947, Dr. Walter E. Boehm founded the Neurosurgical Group of Chattanooga and in 1963 founded the Walter E. Boehm Birth Defect Center — where Dr. Boehm later worked as president and co-medical director for 35 years. The Center, a non-profit located at Children's Hospital at Erlanger, provides care to children born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

"My dad loved what he did. I knew he enjoyed it," says Dr. Boehm. "Somehow he was still home every night at dinner. He would still have to go to the hospital after dinner."

Dr. Boehm's brother, Dr. Walter M. Boehm, also became a leading, area neurosurgeon and headed the Birth Defect Center their father started. The two worked side by side until his brother passed away in 2013.

And his son, Peter Boehm Jr., also joined the family business.

"Growing up, I remember that he always loved his job. He always came home talking about his patients. Not the ailments but the patients themselves. Something significant about the patient and not why they were being seen. He never came home complaining about his job or the health care system," says Peter Boehm Jr. "He didn't push me into medicine. He let me figure out my own way."

Peter Boehm Jr. said his father taught him to listen to patients and give them the time they deserve even as medicine becomes more and more hurried.

"I have heard him tell patients he loves them," he says. "His bedside manner is second to none."

Dr. Daniel Kueter, medical director at Erlanger Neurosurgery Group, was one of several people to nominate Dr. Boehm for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Champions of Health Care Lifetime Achievement Award, and he also praised Dr. Boehm's attention to patient care. He called Dr. Boehm "a doctor's doctor" in his nominating letter.

"We would all want him to take care of us and our family. He is universally respected for his surgical skill and even more importantly for his compassion," wrote Dr. Kueter. "He is always first to volunteer for an extra work shift and always willing to stay late to care for a patient in need."

He teaches medical students, residents and junior partners in order to share what he has learned with the next generation, wrote Dr. Kueter, and during his 40 year career he has volunteered to help countless children facing seemingly insurmountable neurological issues and has treated thousands of patients in emergency situations.

"He has carried sick children in his arms from the emergency room directly to the operating room to perform lifesaving surgery," wrote Dr. Kueter. "This level of dedication is rarely seen today."

"Dr. Boehm has saved and enriched countless lives."