The Doctor Is In
Dr. John H. Bowker

John H. Bowker, M.D., B.S.’52

Decades of Dedication

By Carol Olechowski

Most of his contemporaries have retired. But at age 84, orthopaedic surgeon John H. Bowker proudly remains on the job, treating patients two days a week at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Medical Center.

Bowker’s interest in medicine was “awakened during the waning days of World War II,” when he served as a U.S. Navy corpsman at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, N.Y. He later studied biology at the New York State College for Teachers. The school “was affordable for me with the help of the G.I. Bill, a New York State Veterans scholarship, and living in Albany with my parents,” recalls Bowker. To make ends meet, he worked weekends as a licensed practical nurse and during school breaks as “a common laborer on the construction of the New York State Thruway and the Albany power plant.”

At NYSCT, Bowker’s favorite classes were biology and history; “the quality of the teaching was outstanding in these areas.” Minnie Scotland, who taught several of his biology courses, and Catharine Newbold of the history department “were outstanding teachers with a great sense of humor.” His professors’ “high expectations for student performance” aided Bowker in “developing a mindset valuable for medical studies and subsequent specialty training.”

After graduating from Albany Medical College in 1956, Bowker completed a residency in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and a fellowship in orthopaedic rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital. He combined his medical training with an interest in teaching, joining the orthopaedic faculty at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. Bowker taught there full time for 19 years, then for another 18 at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He retired from the university in 2000, and “the next day, I was hired by Jackson Memorial to continue my resident teaching and surgical work.”

One day each week, Bowker sees “a large number of mostly indigent-care patients in clinics that alternate, with one devoted to preventive and therapeutic management of foot problems of diabetics, and one dedicated to the care of persons with amputations, including the provision and maintenance of prosthetic limbs. These clinics emphasize a team approach. The second day is my surgery schedule; I address the serious problems seen in the clinics, ranging from function-preserving amputations within the foot to major lower-limb amputations.”

A Few Words of Advice

“Virtually all foot problems in diabetics result from ignoring high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period,” says John H. Bowker. “This results in gradual loss of protective sensation in the feet, leading to the inability to recognize injuries to them until, all too often, serious infection results.”

Bowker advises diabetics

  • never to walk barefoot or only in socks, even in their homes.
  • to inspect their feet and shoes closely twice a day.
  • to check their blood sugar levels daily.
  • to have their hemoglobin A1C determined every three months to indicate the average daily blood sugar levels over this period.

The doctor adds: “There are millions of prediabetic persons in the United States, most of them obese. Without intervention, about 70 percent will develop Type 2 diabetes. The most effective measure to stop that progression is by attaining a normal weight through moderate exercise and diet under the guidance of one’s primary physician and a dietitian.”

Bowker, who works with the Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Association and The International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics, is a member of Technical Committee 168 of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). He has served as an editor for the last three editions of Levin and O’Neal’s The Diabetic Foot (Elsevier Publishing), “the leading interdisciplinary work on management of diabetic foot problems for over 30 years,” as well as for the most recent editions of the Atlas of Amputations and Limb Deficiencies, published by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

More than five decades into his career, Bowker considers his work in the clinics, in “improving the quality of both amputation surgery techniques and the lifelong prosthetic management of persons with amputation,” and in “training literally hundreds of orthopaedic residents in the principles of care for these patients,” highly rewarding.