If you’ve been a patient of Dr. Charles Sullivan over the past 38 years, then come June 1, you’re losing a caring confidant and a passionate primary care provider.
At 70, “Dr. Chuck” says it’s time to retire from a family practice career that saw him delivering babies to delivering difficult diagnoses such as cancer.
“It’s the time,” Sullivan said in his office at Sequim Medical Associates recently, his desk still piled with thick files.
“My hearing isn’t as good as it was and I said I would retire when I found someone who took as good of care of my patients as me.”
He’s placed his confidence in Dr. Militza Ausmanas, 42, a family practice physician with a decade of experience. His practice has been in the process of transitioning patients since he announced his retirement in early spring.
“He’s a gem,” said Pam Priest, a long-time business manager who’s been working with Sullivan since 1984.
“Dr. Sullivan’s retirement is going to be a tremendous loss to this community! He is the doctor that not only believed in ‘modern medicine, with old-fashioned care’ but he demonstrated that belief every day, with every patient.
“As sad as it is to say goodbye to him professionally, I am so excited to return him to his family and friends — with fishing pole in hand. It’s way overdue and so deserving.”
In 1972, Sullivan took his bachelor’s degree in biology from Carroll College in Helena, Mont., to Seattle for medical school, recalling that the University of Washington had the reputation of having one of the best primary care programs in the nation.
“I always thought I’d be a doctor because I had some personal medical experiences as a child and in my teens,” said Sullivan, who grew up on a Montana cattle ranch.
He graduated in 1976, completed his three-year residency in Sioux Falls, S.D., and came to Sequim in 1981 with his wife Kate and three children, with one on the way.
Along the way he met Drs. Roger and Kari Olsen, and the trio established Sequim Family Practice Center and Sequim Diagnostic Services in 1981.
“When I was finishing residency, one of the attending physicians asked where I was thinking of locating,” Roger Olsen said. “I told him I had thoughts of joining Chuck Sullivan in Sequim, Washington. He became excited and said, ‘There is no better choice than that!’ He was right.
“Dr. Sullivan has been my colleague, mentor and friend. I have learned more from him than I ever did in school. I still have lots of questions so I am keeping his number on speed dial.”
Sharing his philosophy on medicine, Sullivan said, “In medical school I decided I wanted to be a family doctor — babies, pediatrics, cancer patients and everything in between — from birth to grave — because I’m treating the whole person, the whole family.
“I think everyone should have a family doctor.”
Sullivan said there are about 4,000 disease processes in medicine, and 200 of them comprise 80 percent of the illnesses.
“If a doctor can master those 200 well and knows what he doesn’t know about those 3,800, that’s a good health care model,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been trying to build a case for primary care doctors because there’s a lot of expense involved in seeing a cardiologist every time your heart skips a beat.”
Sullivan said in the early 1980s Sequim only had one stoplight and guessed it had a population of about 3,000. There were few specialists in town and those that came visited from Seattle. The practice stopped its obstetrics services in 1988 due to the high cost of insurance, and Sullivan said he still misses delivering babies.
In 2002, Sullivan and Dr. Roger Olsen formed Sequim Medical Associates, at 840 N. Fifth Ave., Ste. 2100.
About his role as a primary care physician, Sullivan said, “Basically, I try to treat the whole body from an infected ingrown toenail to depression. The head bone is connected to the tail bone and I think primary care treats the whole person. As family practice physicians, we find ourselves as educators, not policemen. Primary care encompasses all those systems and their inter-workings, how body systems interact.
“I think being an educator I’m also a promoter of good health by helping people prevent other illnesses. I help patients achieve and maintain wellness.”
Sullivan laughed good-naturedly when asked what his patients would say about him and then reflected a moment. “I think they’d say I’m a good listener, thorough and compassionate. I get humbled every day and learn something new every day. I have wonderful, wonderful memories.”
“He’s irreplaceable,” registered nurse Becky King said. “Working with Dr. Sullivan for the last 25 years, I understand what he means to his patients and the impact he has had on this community. The word ‘irreplaceable’ comes to mind when I consider how blessed we all are to know and work with him. I expect to see him continue to practice in the aisles of Costco, when he is not fishing. “
Billing manager Timmi Dennis said said that “Doctor Sullivan is the best doctor I have ever worked with, worked for or been a patient of. He has dedicated his life to helping others feel better. And always asks about your mother, father, brother and asks how they are … ”
Medical assistants Kim Kienholz and Tina Sparks both worked with Sullivan for more than a decade.
“He gave me my first job as a medical assistant,” Kienholz said. ” I wish him a very happy retirement filled with fun and happiness on this new chapter. He will be missed greatly.”
“He has trained me to be compassionate, kind and caring — I will miss him more than words can say,” Sparks added.
Sullivan’s last day in the office will be Friday, May 31, and on June 1, his patients and the public are invited to a send-off open house from 1-4 p.m. in the ballroom at Sunland Golf & Country Club.
“I’ve been practicing medicine for 40 years and other than my wife and my family, it’s been the love of my life,” Sullivan said.
“To my patients, I thank you for sharing your lives with me. I have so many wonderful — and terrible — memories, but it’s all part of life and it’s been very fulfilling for me.”