From the time he got his tonsils removed at 4 years old, George Pusczak, MD, knew he wanted to be a doctor.
There was something about the medical profession that intrigued him, even as a kindergartner.
“I was always fascinated by medicine. I remember being in the doctor’s office getting ready for surgery and the doctor said, ‘I’ll count to 10 and you’ll be asleep.’ He started counting real slow and as I was drifting off I thought, ‘This guy doesn’t know how to count. I should do his job.’”
And when he graduated from the University of Michigan medical school in 1960, his lifelong desire came true. After serving as a physician in the U.S. Air Force and then working as a physician in Grand Rapids, he began his career at Big Rapids Hospital in 1966.
He has been practicing “the art of medicine” in Big Rapids ever since.
“It’s been a privilege to be a physician and I don’t take that for granted,” he said. “Physicians have a front seat to the world. People will confide in you, and that’s a privilege.”
Now, entering his 50th year in health care, Dr. Pusczak boasts the longest tenure of any physician at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital. He started with his own office and also practiced within the hospital. In June 2015, after nearly five decades of serving the community, he decided it was time to close his practice.
But Dr. Pusczak hasn’t left the hospital life just yet. He still administers stress tests for the hospital on a regular basis while preparing for full retirement.
He said the connections with his patients are what keeps him going. Getting to know them individually—sometimes seeing generations within the same family—has brought the most satisfaction in his work.
Dr. Pusczak recalls a patient in his 70s who reminded him of an experience they’d had many years prior.
“He said, ‘You were there when my dad had a heart attack, and all these years later, I’ll never forget what you said. You helped us get through it.’”
Through the trials and successes of practicing medicine and leading his own office for years, Dr. Pusczak adopted a motto. It was a phrase he first heard from a mentor on the first day of his internship before he had his medical degree.
“We don’t not do something simply because it’s difficult,” he said. “That’s what I always tell people.”
When faced with a decision that would require extra effort, but would ultimately achieve the best results for patients, Dr. Pusczak lived by his own advice.
He helped bring new capabilities to local health care, even when it was difficult.
“When I first came here there were no defibrillators and no EKG monitors, so I met with the ladies auxiliary to get us a defibrillator,” he recalled.
When the first defibrillators were delivered to the hospital, Dr. Pusczak taught the rest of the staff how to use the equipment. A few nights later, he recalls a patient whose life was saved because of the new equipment.
“The patient needed to be shocked three or four times that night. We were all glad we had those defibrillators.”
He was also instrumental of the opening of the critical care unit at Big Rapids Hospital. After seeing a need for a unit equipped for more critical cases to avoid excess transfers, he assisted the hospital in receiving a Kresge grant, which helped fund the unit that opened in 1975.
History of local medicine
Now, walking through the halls of Big Rapids Hospital, Dr. Pusczak can recount decades of the hospital’s history and detail the changes that have occurred through the years.
“Where medical records is, that used to be exam rooms … and the medical staff office was the nurse’s station,” he said. “It was all different when I first started.”
As Big Rapids Hospital prepared for yet another change in July 2015 with the transition to a new software system, the 79-year-old considered if he wanted to be part of another change, or if he was ready for a new season of life. He ultimately decided to close his practice rather than invest in new systems.
“To do that in my 50th year wouldn’t have worked, so that was an easy decision,” Dr. Pusczak said.
As he cleaned out his office and continues to get used to using phrases like “former patient,” he is entering retirement with gratitude for his lengthy career.
“I count my blessings and remind myself that it’s been quite a run,” he said. “How did a potato picker from Montcalm County get to go to the University of Michigan and practice medicine?”