Dr. Michael Greer says a physiology course while he was a student at Sequatchie County High School piqued his interest in medicine, and he never had a plan B.
"I don't know what I'd do if I didn't do medical school," he says. "Fortunately, I got in. It was all I wanted to do and I was fortunate enough to do it."
Greer, 68, joined University Surgical Associates in Chattanooga in 1985 and specializes as a vascular surgeon.
Greer recalls that after high school, he earned a zoology degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He attended medical school at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, and he returned to Chattanooga for a general surgery residency.
"I was just a country boy who got a good break," he says. "Medical school changed my life really. It gave me the opportunity to do all these things."
Greer says he had two short stints of study in Europe — fellowships in Birmingham, England, and in Zurich, Switzerland. But he says he wanted to return to Chattanooga and join University Surgical Associates.
"When they offered me a chance to come back, I was elated. I love the people I got a chance to work with," he says, citing group Chairman Dr. Phillip Burns as a mentor.
He says that he liked vascular surgery and needed to perform that specialty to join the group. He was its fourth member. It now numbers 36 physicians.
Greer says teaching is a big part of the mission for members of the group.
"You get to influence young people," he says. "When you get ready to check out, you've done something that superseded you. If there's something you teach them that changes their habits, the way they treat patients, that's a huge thing."
The physician has been the medical student clerkship director in the department of surgery at the UT College of Medicine in Chattanooga for about 15 years.
"Students are very impressionable. They want to learn," he says. "Everything is new to them. It keeps our work from becoming sort of old hat."
Dr. Michael Greer
* Role: Physician specializing in vascular surgery
* Career: Joined University Surgical Associates in Chattanooga in 1985
* Personal: Wife, Vallerie; two sons, Steve, a surgeon with the group; and John, an engineer
The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging and stressful for everyone, and exhaustion is a constant challenge for medical providers, Greer says.
"You kind of feel it throughout the hospital," he says. "Burnout is an issue with physicians. Some things in medicine are harder to do. God bless the nurses. They deal with this all day long, every day."
Carla Sandlin, of Tracy City, Tennessee, a longtime patient, says Greer "has saved me on more than one occasion."
"He is a gentle soul and cares for his patient," she wrote in nominating Greer for Champions of Health Care recognition. "He is genuinely interested and makes efforts to reassure his patient on all levels of their outcomes."
Greer says he plans to continue to practice "for a while longer."
"Retirement is a tricky situation," he says. "As physicians, we tend to be sort of addicted to our work, so to speak."
CHAMPIONS OF HEALTH CARE 2021