Dr. Michael J. Gunter

Family practitioner

After 11 years as a paramedic, Las Vegas native Dr. Gunter decided to pursue a medical degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. A family practitioner specializing in sports medicine in the Valley for 17 years, Gunter is the Las Vegas 51s team physician and the chief of staff at Summerlin Hospital. Here are the highlights from his recent interview with Paul Szydelko.

dr._michael_j._gunter_by_jon_estrada_01_WEBI was racing motorcycles when I was 17. One of my co-racers got hurt, and I stopped and was able to help. He had a big cut in his leg, and he was just flayed open. I put pressure on it, and instead of being grossed out I thought it was kind of cool. This might be an interesting career.

When I turned 18 in the summer of ’78, I went to EMT school and went to Mercy Ambulance to ask for a job. They told me I couldn’t because I wasn’t 20 yet. But I was persistent. The boss, Bob Forbuss, was a teacher at Bishop Gorman High School, worked with kids and sat on the school district board. He said I could ride third; I wouldn’t get paid, but I could get some experience. So I would beg people to let me ride with them. The more I got into it, the more I loved it. Forbuss sponsored me to go to paramedic school in Los Angeles when I was 19. I came back here, took my boards and got certified in Nevada. … I found out this studying’s not too bad—I could be a doctor.

I was thinking about being an ER doctor, but I liked all my rotations. What could I [pick] where I could do pretty much everything, and so it was family practice. What I liked the most was the follow-up, the continuity of care.

I sound like a broken record with my patients. Fortunately or unfortunately, you picked a sports-medicine guy to be your family doc. Exercise is so important with anything out there—if you look at any disease, depression and anxiety or prevention of injury, exercise plays such a key role.

People need to have their comfort food. I love burgers. Take one day and have your Mardi Gras day, and have what you want. Diets fail because they get a strict thing they’re supposed to eat every day, and we’re not wired like that.

My 19-year-old stepson has been in the Army for almost three weeks. He’s in Fort Benning, Georgia, on his way to becoming a Ranger. He was a little overweight. He got into Crossfit because when he went in, the recruiters told him where he had to be. He lost 55 pounds through exercise and nutrition. He found out he could cheat every once in a while, have a pizza and things like this. But you know what? He lost 55 pounds to get in. I’m really proud of him.

People ask me about alcohol. Moderation’s good. The French are drinking two to four glasses of wine a day, and we see less heart disease there. I don’t think it’s all because of wine; these people are more active, too. They walk to work, or they bike to work. My mother’s from Holland, and I can tell you when I visited there my grandmother walked everywhere. We walked everywhere. If it was far away, we’d take a train or a canal taxi, but [otherwise] you walked everywhere.

In the last couple of years there have been some great advances for osteoarthritis, knee pain and getting injuries to heal quicker. Stem-cell injection has been awesome. And there’s platelet-rich plasma, in which we draw blood from the patient, spin it down and we inject the plasma into those areas that need to be healed. You’re getting those nice growth factors to the site and healing that injury.

We’re such a litigious community, and we’re having trouble recruiting physicians to Las Vegas because of this. We’re paying 50 percent higher malpractice-insurance rates [than the rest of the state]. That’s a frustration. We’ve got great doctors in this town. We’re really starting to get that cutting edge in medicine. But if we can’t continue to recruit people, we’re going to be continually underserved.