Source: Ryan Alves, The News-Enterprise
They say home is where the heart is and Ben Cundiff believes that just as much as anyone.
It’s what led him on his journey to become one of Hardin Memorial Health’s top doctors in its multi-disciplinary lung program.
Cundiff’s story didn’t start like many others in the medical field.
“One day I’m mopping the floor and the next minute I’m performing life-saving measures on somebody upstairs,” Cundiff said.
Cundiff started working at the hospital as a janitor out of high school.
“Since my last tenure here, my job has changed quite a bit,” he added.
At 15, Cundiff suffered a broken leg. That’s when he became intrigued with the medical field.
“I was fascinated with how you recover from an injury and anatomy and stuff like that,” Cundiff said.
But when it came time to graduate high school and decide on a future path, Cundiff was somewhat undecided.
“I knew I wanted to go to college, but I kind of set my sights relatively low,’’ he said. “I’d say things like, ‘I’ll think about going to college. I’ll think about becoming a teacher if possible.’ Teaching is a very respectable field and it’s something I thought I could do.”
Instead, he got a job in environmental services at the hospital.
“Working here, I got to see first-hand people doing the things I was interested in,” Cundiff said.
But he didn’t know if he had what it took to become a physician.
“I was the first person to go to college in my family, so it was very daunting to think about four years of college then four years of medical school,” Cundiff said. “It takes a lot of mental toughness. And I didn’t have much academic confidence coming out of high school.”
Eventually, he made the leap toward becoming a doctor.
“I started thinking, I would like to do something better with my life than the path I’m on right now. At the time I was mopping floors and picking up trash,” Cundiff said. “So I decided to just give it a shot.”
Cundiff saw quick results.
“I started taking undergraduate courses, pre-medicine courses and did well in them and thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do this,’” he said.
Cundiff began the journey at Elizabethtown Community College for his first two years of undergraduate schooling. Then he transferred to the University of Louisville for his final three years. Then came four years of osteopathic medical school at the University of Kentucky.
Afterward, Cundiff did six years of internal medicine and pulmonary critical care training at the University of Cincinnati.
When it came time to find a job, Cundiff pondered the idea of staying on at UC.
“They offered me a job to stay on as faculty. And I liked academic medicine, I won’t lie,” he said. “But I declined the job because I wanted to come back. I was tired of living away from home.”
Cundiff grew up in the small town of Roanoke, just outside Hodgenville. He graduated from LaRue County High School in 1998.
When he moved back to the area with his wife, the only plausible choice for Cundiff was a farm nine-tenths of a mile from where he grew up.
“It was never a question. I wanted to be close to my family,” Cundiff said. “When I was growing up, my grandmother was taking care of me. I didn’t go to daycare or anything during the day. And I want my kids to be able to experience the same thing. Not being raised by strangers.”
Working at HMH was the only choice that made sense, too, he added.
“I always knew I’d come back here,” Cundiff said. “My family is here. My mom works here. It’s a big enough hospital that serves enough of the surrounding counties that I could do a lot of things and help a lot of people. Particularly people who are from where I’m from.”
Cundiff said being a physician is his “calling.”
“I wanted to do something important. It’s more than a job. I’ve got to pour everything I have into it because I feel like it’s what I was put here to do,” he added.
He’s done plenty since being hired in September 2014, most noticeably establishing the pulmonary critical care practice at HMH.
Cundiff got help from his partner and fellow Cincinnati Bearcat Dr. Navin Kaini, who made the trek to Elizabethtown from Ohio with him.
“We kind of started the whole thing together. Before we got here there was no board-certified intensivist. We kind of changed the way critically ill patients were taken care of here at this hospital,” Cundiff said.
His main duties at HMH are treating patients with lung disease and lung cancer, as well as caring for patients in the ICU who are extremely sick.
It’s just one cog in the wheel that is the hospital’s multidisciplinary lung program, Cundiff said.
“We wanted to put this clinic together to fast track people to get in and get evaluated for potential cancer. In most cases that are cancer, we can get someone started on chemotherapy in two weeks. And that’s really fast,” Cundiff said.
Since he joined the staff at HMH, Cundiff said the workload has increased.
So much so the practice hired another Bearcat — Dr. Aaron Mulhall, who also trained with Cundiff and Kaini at UC.
“He was my intern when I was a senior resident,” Cundiff said. “We were barely able to keep up; we needed to get some help. So we asked Aaron to come aboard and he said, ‘Sure.’ He’s been here since last September and it’s really helped.”
Still, the demands grow for the lung program at HMH, which will be hiring its fourth pulmonary critical care specialist in September, Cundiff said.
Outside of the hospital, Cundiff likes spending time with his family.
“I like working out. I like to read about military history. I like shooting sports. I recently bought a bow and went on an elk hunt this year,” Cundiff said. “But since my kids have been born, that’s all I do is spend time with my kids. It’s really all I want to do.”
“It’s kind of boring, but that’s what I do. I love coming home and playing with my kids,” he added.