Editor's note: As people around the globe struggle to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, and as health care providers work diligently, and think creatively about ways to protect and treat patients, it seems especially apropos to thank those like Dr. John Karduck who have devoted decades of their lives to serving in the trenches of clinical medicine and training others to respond in times of injury, disease and crisis. This profile of Dr. Karduck, was shared by his colleague Dr. Thomas Woods.
Faculty Spotlight: Dr. John Karduck, MD
Clinical Associate Professor, Physician Assistant Science
Encyclopedically intelligent, tirelessly inquisitive, unpretentious and a devoted student-centered teacher, Dr. John Karduck manifests the lofty aspirations that SFU has for faculty members as well as the skills that are most needed during a global pandemic.
Emanating from blue-collar roots, this Portage, PA native’s medical career began almost five decades ago but his career’s impact on his community will outlive us all. While trained as a physician of family medicine, Dr. Karduck’s interests and involvements are much broader than any one specialty; much of his professional career has also been devoted to emergency medicine and pre-hospital care. Anyone who has dialed 911 for emergency medical assistance since 1976 in Cambria, Somerset, Bedford and the surrounding counties has been directly impacted by Dr. Karduck because chances are the EMS personnel who responded to that distress call have been trained or supervised by John. Under normal circumstances EMS personnel and those who train them are worthy of a community’s genuine admiration; amidst an infectious disease global pandemic however, their contributions shine even brighter.
John’s devotion to the EMS system and the men and women who provide these services is impressive in its breadth, depth and longevity. Dr. Karduck reflects, “I got into EMS shortly after high school. The father of a friend was a funeral director who also provided ambulance service, as most funeral homes did at that time. He knew of my interest in medicine and offered me the opportunity to work on the ambulance. I continued that during college and when I moved to Pittsburgh for medical school.” He continued, “When I returned to the area after medical school, some forward-thinking people asked if I would be willing to teach a paramedic program locally. With a lot of trepidation, I agreed. That first class was not readily accepted by the hospitals and the nurses who had no idea what a paramedic was and what they could do. Very shortly after the first class completed and before the test results were reported, Johnstown and the area sustained a major flood. Because of the state of emergency, the graduates could function as if they were certified and did an amazing job providing care in extreme circumstances. Their value has never been questioned since.”
Local Devotion, National Impact for EMS
While his involvement in EMS began locally, Dr. Karduck’s impact on EMS has extended globally through his willingness to undertake leadership roles such as: Board of Director appointment of the National Association of EMS Educators; member of the four person team that created and presented programs on the revised EMS Educational Standards in multiple states under the auspices of the National Association of EMS Educators; being in the first tested cohort of Nationally Certified EMS Educators; serving as Chairman of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Heart Association; site visitor for Committee on Accreditation of EMS Programs, a subcommittee of the Committee on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs; presenting at national EMS conferences and contributing as an item writer for national certification exams delivered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. Additionally, Dr. Karduck has been the Director of EMS Education at the Conemaugh School of EMS since 1976 and is the Medical Director of the Cambria, Somerset and Bedford county 911 centers. Of note, Dr. Karduck carried out all of these responsibilities while simultaneously practicing both family practice medicine and serving as an emergency medicine physician.
Of the EMS system Dr. Karduck reflects: “EMS has been the unrecognized and underappreciated part of the health care system from its very onset. The emergency department has been called the safety net of health care, but so is EMS. EMS never asks about insurance or ability to pay. A call for help to 911 results in an ambulance showing up at the caller’s doorstep. Some people think of the ambulance much like a taxi, a way to get a ride to the hospital. People often fail to realize that that ambulance is a mini version of the ED with advanced equipment staffed by well-educated and trained personnel.” “EMS was on the brink of collapse even prior to the current pandemic. EMS should be placed in the same category of municipal services just as are police and fire services. EMS is terribly underfunded, relaying on a payer system that often does not even cover the operational costs of providing the services. Municipalities often provide an extraordinarily little, and sometimes no funding to support the ambulance service. In this area, most services are non-profit agencies. Because payments do not cover operating costs, many must resort to fund raising activities. Much like the volunteer fire departments who are also woefully underfunded, the ambulances rely on sub sales, spaghetti dinners, bingo, raffles and other activities to be able to continue to provide medical care to their communities.”
Teaching the Pathophysiology of Disease
Paramedic and Program Director of the Conemaugh School of EMS, Mr. Tim Reitz, reflects that Dr. Karduck has made many contributions to EMS during his tenure with the program. Of all the contributions Dr. Karduck has made, however, the one that Mr. Reitz feels is most significant is the emphasis that Dr. Karduck places on students understanding disease pathophysiology and not just treating the patient’s symptoms or signs. “Dr. Karduck has really influenced the way I practice medicine by stressing to me the need to understand the pathophysiology of disease. He taught us to ‘look deeper’ then just what we saw in front of us. He pushed us to understand what the disease or condition was doing to the patient, so that we could better understand how to help them. If you do not understand what is going on with the patient, then you are only treating their symptoms and that can sometimes get you into trouble. He was ahead of his time with this way of teaching.” Reflection upon the totality of Dr. Karduck’s contributions to EMS, Mr. Reitz says, “He has really had an impact on the way people are treating patients on the front lines of EMS medicine both locally and nationally.”
Dr. John Karduck’s devotion to students is not limited to EMS trainees. Currently, amidst his many other involvements, John is shepherding clinicians-in-training as a faculty member in the Saint Francis University Department of Physician Assistant Science. Predictably, his impact on students’ comprehension of disease physiology, radiographic diagnostics, emergency medicine treatment interventions and an appreciation that practicing medicine is both an “art” as well as a science, is significant. Students revere his command of the healing arts and his ability to help them think critically about the complexities of medical care. John’s “open door policy” draws countless students to his office for conversation, consultation and guidance. John never turns down a student’s request for assistance and his devotion to both the wellbeing of students and their education is well established.
Among his faculty colleagues John also is celebrated both for his work ethic as well as his expansive knowledge. Of John, one faculty member recently commented, “John’s middle name must be ‘Google’ because he just knows everything. He is clearly intelligent but he also works very hard at his craft. His inquisitive nature, dedication to his own professional development and tireless work ethic inspire us all.” When a topic was discussed at a staff meeting and John commented that he did not have any familiarity with the topic, one colleague recalled thinking “then how are us mere mortals supposed to have any information about it?"
The guy is both genuinely intelligent and tirelessly inquisitive. He is diligent about expanding his skills and the department’s students and his colleagues reap the benefits of his efforts on a daily basis.
Early Life Lessons
Hard work and compassion to those in need are lessons that are deeply ingrained in John Karduck. “My father had an 8th grade education, but he was one of the smartest people I have known in many ways. My mother also had an 8th grade education and worked in the garment industry for many years. Both were hard working people. For a number of years, my father operated a coal mine, generally working there alone except for his one-eyed mule that pulled the mine cars. Even though we were far from rich, it was not unusual to deliver a load of coal to a family that was much worse off than we were. His actions were never publicized or even talked about; it was just something he did without expectations. That ethic rubbed off on me when I started in practice.”
Dr. Karduck’s personal practice of medicine, commitment to EMS and his work as a faculty member with physician assistant students puts into practice his family’s ethos of hard work, community service and sharing one’s blessings with others. Physician Assistant Department Chairperson Dr. Carrie Beebout reflects, “John is blessed with a strong brain and a giving heart. Students learn a great deal from him in the classroom, in critical thinking sessions and during complex cases in the University’s high fidelity simulation lab. John sets the bar high for students; he knows what they are capable of, and he pushes them to excel. Praise from Dr. Karduck is coveted by students. If a student can impress John, they go home with a special glow and a sense of accomplishment, which pushes them to work even harder. John has commented that he feels a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction from the work he does with students which makes me smile because certainly the students, faculty, staff and medical community are fulfilled and inspired by the work he does each day.”
Response in the Era of COVID-19
Among the current pandemic response protocols, public health professionals are encouraging the practice of “Contact Tracing” which involves identifying individuals who have come into contact with persons infected with COVID-19 and warning them of their potential exposure. If we warn people that make contact with an individual who might have an adverse impact on their health status, it certainly makes sense to do the reverse as well. To that end, amidst this time of global infectious disease, it is also important that we examine, praise and honor those people whose professional careers have touched, influenced or impacted the lives of others in a positive, meaningful way.
Dr. John Karduck’s professional accomplishments, his personal commitment to the betterment of his community and his impact on the lives of generations of students, is praiseworthy under every circumstance. As people around the globe struggle to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and as health care providers work diligently and think creatively about ways to protect and treat patients, it seems especially apropos to thank those like Dr. John Karduck who have devoted decades of their lives to serving in the trenches of clinical medicine and training others to respond in times of injury, disease and crisis. To all who served, much is owed. To Dr. John Karduck, whose selfless efforts at ensuring that there are people both motivated and equipped to respond in times of crisis, our community can be sincerely and genuinely grateful.