Cape doctor picked to lead state medical association

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Cape Girardeau doctor of family medicine who is also on the active staff of both Southeast Missouri Hospital and Saint Francis Medical Center has been elected as president of the Missouri State Medical Association.

Dr. Thomas Sparkman was selected for a one-year term April 9 during the association's 151st convention in Kansas City. Sparkman has been an active member of the association since 1997.

"I want my grandkids to know that a kid growing up in Poplar Bluff milking cows can become president of all the state's doctors," Sparkman said. "This is my message to my grandkids and everyone else: You can do whatever you aspire to do."

As president, he has a full agenda ahead of him, including the task of bringing health care to the uninsured.

"To date there are 50 million uninsured Americans," Sparkman said. Various plans to address this issue are being discussed at the state and national levels, though Sparkman said he is against some of the more expansive plans being proposed.

"We don't know what's coming down the road with health-care reform," he said. "President Obama will lay out some details this September but it's a case of 'be careful what you wish you for' because health care is going to undergo some changes. This is a great challenge."

After graduating from Poplar Bluff High School, Sparkman went to Southeast Missouri State University, where he majored in zoology. During the Korean War, Sparkman served in the Army Medical Corps, where he decided to become a doctor.

"I saw these brave people and thought, 'I gotta be like these guys'," he said.

Seeing the worst that war brings, Sparkman said his medical career since has actually been somewhat less difficult.

"Plus, I have a very strong religious background," he said. "I find some union with my religious convictions and the role of following the work of the great healer, Jesus Christ."

In 1962, Sparkman earned his medical degree at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston. But it was during his internship at Ben Taub City Charity/Jefferson Davis Hospital in Houston, now LBJ City/Charity Hospital, that he saw average people on a constant basis.

"Seeing that for five straight years gave me an even better understanding of the care people need," Sparkman said.

Even though affordable health care is the medical community's primary concern, Sparkman sees another goal of equal importance.

"The biggie is having greater participation of doctors in primary care that see sick people on a daily basis," he said. "The lack of primary care physicians has created a great hassle for us. If we could increase by 15 percent the number of doctors who pursue primary care, 50 percent of ER visits would be reduced and emergency rooms could go back to the function for which they were devised."

Sparkman is still active in the local community. He belongs to various local associations and has received numerous honors; most recently, the Cape Girardeau Medical Society renamed their Family Practice Symposium the Thomas C. Sparkman, MD, Primary Care Symposium.

"Cape has been very good to my family and my son, who's also a doctor," he said. "I have great admiration for the caliber of people we grow in the area."

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