QUINCY -- Physician Sumul Gandhi breaks the mold of the high-pressure profession.
The 35-year-old dermatologist at Quincy Medical Group was valedictorian of his high school class, earned three masters degrees simultaneously and, for a long time, was anything but relaxed.
"I was temperamental as a kid ... competitive and very driven ... big temper and always had to get the highest grade in the class," Gandhi said.
His competitive streak served him well, as the challenge posed by medicine enticed him into the health care field.
The youngest son of a pharmacist and a stay-at-home mother, Gandhi learned from his parents at a young age to test his limits and never take the easy road. He describes himself as a "complete nerd" in high school -- the guy who studied every night and all weekend. He was accepted into a University of Illinois medical school program right after graduation and finished the undergraduate portion in three years. He attended medical school, business school and public health school at the same time.
"There was one time where there was overlap," he said. "I was in public health school finishing up some of my finals, then I was doing my rotations for med school during the day, and at night, I was going to business school. I was in school from 7 until 9 without any breaks, and then you come home and do the work."
His disposition shifted in his first year of residency at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County, where he worked in the emergency room.
"I saw too many people getting stressed in the field of medicine, and I realized that it doesn't help anything," he said.
A third-year resident took Gandhi under his wing. Gandhi saw how this doctor and others separated their personal and professional lives to find a positive work-life balance.
"I saw the happiness they had in their profession because they didn't take it home, and in their family life, because they didn't bring it to work," he said.
Gandhi wanted that for his life. He began to focus on his outward appearance, presenting a calm demeanor even when he didn't feel it inside. After time, the internal came to reflect the peace he was exhibiting externally. Caring for 30 or more patients in an afternoon in the emergency room, he was able to just go about his day, keeping anxiety and stress to a minimum.
"You see all these crazy things in the ER -- people bleeding out of who knows where, and you can't freak out," he said. "If you're stressed, people see that. It's not a good look. You become someone who is completely unrelatable."
The changes he made in residency have helped him to connect with his patients at QMG. All of his surgeries are done under local anaesthesia, so his patients are always awake.
"We're talking and hanging out (during surgery)," he said. "I think it calms them down to an extent. It just makes it a lot less tense environment."
He talks to his patients about their goals in treatment and their goals in life. He tries to address their concerns and get to know them.
"I'm not doing it for the sake of the surgery," he said. "It's just the way I like things to be. I want everyone to be laid back. If the patients are stressed, then I'm stressed."
Gandhi does anywhere from three to seven Mohs micrographic surgeries -- a process that removes layer after layer of cancerous skin until only healthy tissue remains -- in the mornings. His afternoons are spent directly cutting out cancerous skin.
"It is rewarding, but it can be tough at times," he said. "You have to assess every individual patient with customized treatment."
Airbnb of health care
Getting accepted into medical school out of high school, he searched for a way to broaden his focus, which led him to business school. Working with a fellow doctor whom he met in business school, who also had a master of business administration degree, Gandhi founded Clineeds -- a company he describes as the Airbnb of health care.
"The real estate space in health care is very inefficient," he said. "We create our own companies based on opportunities we see."
Clineeds is an online listing platform for health care professionals. Doctors, groups or practices that have available space or equipment rent it out through the site.
"Ultimately, we're looking forward to integrating health care a little bit better," he said. "There's too much fragmentation of the market, and there is a disconnect between the various specialties."
Spaces like clinics, treatment rooms and surgical areas are rented to physicians of all disciplines through the website.
The company was founded in 2015 and has grown to include about 2,000 users in the last two years. The website saw about 19,000 hits last month.
"It's about increasing access to care," he said, "and patients having better outcomes as a result."
‘Family is everything'
Gandhi has been with Quincy Medical Group for about a year and a half. After completing his fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle, he didn't want to settle that far away from his family.
"I feel like this is a place where I can make a difference," he said, describing Quincy's population as being in need of skin cancer treatment.
Displaced from his family, he takes the train home to Skokie, a Chicago suburb, every Thursday after work, returning on Sunday evenings. His parents still pick him up from the Amtrak station every week, just as if he was a college student, he said. There is always a big home-cooked meal waiting for him when he makes his return.
Most weekends, he tries to make a new pizza recipe. One weekend he flew to New York on a Saturday morning to try the best pizzas that the city had to offer. He flew back the next day with new ideas to inspire his own cooking.
"Spending three days a week home with my parents means the world to me," he said. "I go home every single weekend, without exception. Money is great and everything, but life is really about relationships, and family is everything."
His older brother, who is a dentist, also comes back to Chicago with his family most weekends.
"Personally, I think I'm at peace with everything," he said. "I just try to stay calm with everything else going on."
Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.