A lot has changed since Dr. E. Dow Suhre moved to Santa Fe in 1974. The physician began working at St. Vincent Hospital 38 years ago, when it was located on Palace Avenue. Back then, the hospital (which had been run by the Sisters of Charity since 1865) had just transitioned to a community-based facility. Sister Mary Joaquin, the former hospital director, later became one of Suhre’s patients.
Suhre’s first office was located on Cienega Street, across from the hospital. Pat Hollis Pharmacy was situated on Palace Avenue, not far from the hospital, which was very convenient, as Suhre made his daily rounds in the hospital.
All that changed when the hospital moved to its current St. Michael’s Drive location in 1977. But the one thing that remained constant was the loyalty of his patients.
“As I was packing up my office this summer, I began browsing through my patient files and found that I was still treating many of my first patients from 1974, as well as their children and grandchildren,” Suhre said.
After almost four decades, Suhre closed his medical practice in July and joined the ranks of the retired. Initially, he thought about retiring after 40 years because it was a nice even number. But as the medical profession rapidly became more computerized, he felt pressure to adapt and decided to throw in the towel.
“This year I turned 70, and that’s also a nice even number, so I felt that it was as good a time as any to retire,” Suhre said.
Like many of his colleagues in the medical profession, Suhre realized that in the last few years, he had been spending more time filling out insurance paperwork than caring for his patients.
“I found myself being less able to care for my patients because I was forced to concentrate on electronic record keeping. As the paperwork became more tedious, I realized that it was time to retire,” Suhre said.
Despite the medical protocol that all medical professions must now adhere to, he doesn’t believe that all of the changes are bad.
“Today, patients can go to sites like MD.com to research their ailments. So when they come in to see me, they’re more in tune with their medical options, which helps me get to the root of their problems more quickly,” he said.
One of three children, Suhre was born to Orville Suhre and Elizabeth Dow in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1942. Both of his siblings are still living. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1964 and received his medical degree from Northwestern University in 1968. He served his internship at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
During the Vietnam War, he was a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve and served at Hill 37, a military battalion located near Da Nang, Vietnam.
When he returned from the war, he reviewed several job opportunities and chose to move to Santa Fe because of its proximity to his hometown and the fact that he loved New Mexico.
“What brought me to Santa Fe and what keeps me here is the smell of burning piñon and the glorious snowflakes during winter,” Suhre said.
Suhre’s time on the front lines in Vietnam was undoubtedly the impetus that led him to become a volunteer firefighter in Santa Fe for 14 years. He began his service in 1975, prior to the city establishing a paid fire department.
“Back then, volunteers were the first responders to an emergency situation. The radio dispatcher didn’t even know what we meant when we said that we were applying CPR to a victim,” Suhre said.
From 1990 to 2005, Suhre was director of St. Vincent Hospital Intensive Care Unit. During that time, he became a fixture at the hospital and was well-liked by all.
“I always made a point of being respectful and congenial to everyone — technicians, nurses and fellow doctors. I firmly believed that acknowledging every individual’s efforts in caring for patients was important,” he said.
Suhre married Kay Matthews, his former nurse and office secretary, in 1996. They brought to their union, the second marriage for each, four children and four grandchildren.
Now that Suhre is officially retired, he spends his time working in his garden, birdwatching and traveling. He also attends medical conferences at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center twice a week, where he provides expertise in problem solving for new resident physicians.
His future plans include teaching nurses and doctors. But for now, in his first year of retirement, he wants to lie low and enjoy his freedom.
“Every day is Sunday, and I don’t have to do a thing,” Suhre said.
Ana Pacheco’s weekly tribute to our community elders appears every Sunday. She can be reached at 474-2800.