Dr. Jagannath “Jack” Surpure is a pioneer in the relatively new field of pediatric emergency medicine.
A native of India, he trained in England before coming to the U.S. in 1973 and spent 17 years teaching at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. While there, he worked with the American College of Emergency Physicians to design courses that trained doctors in emergency treatment of children.
Surpure came to Las Vegas in 1993 to serve as director of a new program, Pediatric Emergency Services, at University Medical Center. In 1996, he founded Children’s Urgent Care Center, an alternative to taking children to a hospital emergency room.
“It was a new concept,” he said. “I knew it would provide a needed service, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure the business model would work.”
Seventeen years later, his group includes three physicians and one physician’s assistant at two clinics at opposite ends of the valley. The clinics are open seven days a week with extended hours. They treat all types of minor emergencies but do not accept ambulances or life-threatening cases.
Surpure has written five books on medical subjects, as well as dozens of published papers, and is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UNLV. He is board certified in pediatrics, pediatric emergency medicine and adult emergency medicine.
With your extensive background in both emergency medicine and pediatrics, which do you prefer?
I like pediatrics, and that’s what my background and training has been in. I learned emergency medicine basically through on-the-job experience. Although I don’t see many life-threatening situations now, I think pediatrics is actually more challenging.
What kinds of problems do you deal with at the urgent care clinic?
Most are simple: colds and coughs, breathing difficulty, some traumas. We often remove foreign bodies from children’s ears and noses: beans, beads, small toy parts — whatever can go in, does go in. In winter, we see a lot of bronchitis, pneumonia and sore throats; in allergy season it is sinus infections; and in summer, insect bites and swimmer’s ear.
Have you noticed an increase in overweight children?
It’s a very major problem. I estimate 30 to 40 percent of the kids I see are overweight. Twenty years ago, kids didn’t have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and other issues related to obesity, and now they are very common. I don’t recommend medications — just eating less and exercising more — but the child needs his parents’ help to lose weight, and often the whole family is obese.
Is it more difficult today for a physician to make a living than it was when you started out?
Yes. Reimbursement rates from government programs and private insurers are low, and insurance companies are very arrogant, with a “take it or leave it” attitude. Doctors have to see so many patients a day just to cover their overhead, which is why the trend is to work for a hospital or medical group instead of going into private practice.
What plans do you have for the future?
I’ve been thinking of starting a clinic to help children with health problems like obesity, asthma and other chronic conditions. I’ve practiced yoga for about 15 years, and I’d like to incorporate that into the program, but it would require an entire team: pediatricians, exercise specialists, yoga instructors, nutritionists and others.