Chief of Orthopedics, University Community Hospital, Tampa
Assistant Professor, University of South Florida College of Medicine
The advice his father gave him many years ago has been a reliable compass for Ed Homan as he made his way through life.
“He told me not to make decisions hastily, but once you commit, never look back,” said Homan, an orthopedic surgeon who has been practicing in Tampa for 35 years. “’If’ is just not a word” in his dictionary, Homan said. “Don't fret about your decisions.” (See related story
That approach has served Homan well from the time he was growing up in Freeport, Texas in the 1950s.
“Our next-door neighbor was our family doctor and I was friends with his son,” Homan said. That was when he first thought about becoming a doctor. His family moved to Louisiana when he was in high school and his dad was steering him toward a career as a chemical engineer, he said. “I applied and was accepted at John Hopkins University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” he said. Following his father’s sage advice, he made his choice (John Hopkins) and never looked back.
After receiving his undergraduate degree, Homan enrolled in medical school at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. He was planning to specialize in ophthalmology, but a summer job he had lined up fell through. Desperate to find work he accepted a temporary position at the Ochsner Clinic where he was blown away by his first visit to the operating room. “The patient had a fractured femur and they were putting in a rod. It was awesome!” he said. “I fell in love with orthopedics.”
Homan received his MD in 1968. But before he could complete his residency he was called to serve in the U.S. Navy. He spent two years at Guantanamo Bay and upon discharge, he completed his residency in surgery at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. It was 1972, he had three sons and another decision to make. “We knew we wanted to be on the water. So we had to decide between California and Florida,” he remembered. “The water was warmer in Florida so I moved to Tampa,” he said, and he opened his private practice.
“The medical school (at USF) was just starting in 1975, and a lot of the faculty were part-timers who practiced in Tampa,” Homan said. That arrangement carried on very nicely for the next 25 years, he said, including a stint as president of the Hillsborough County Medical Society. But then he was confronted with another decision that would change his life, and from which there could be no turning back.
“I learned that the District 60 (Florida) legislative seat held by Victor Crist was going to be open” in 2000 Homan said. “I knew nothing about politics, but I knew that physicians like to gripe and don’t do much about it. … I was a Democrat at the time (Crist was a Republican) and I thought I would call a Democrat for advice,” he said.
That Democrat was Lee Moffitt, a friend for 30 years and namesake of the renowned cancer research institute. Moffitt encouraged him to go for it, reasoning that Homan would have the opportunity to help many, many more people in the Legislature than he could as a surgeon.
Homan decided to take the plunge into politics. He lost that election by about 300 votes.
“I knew right then that I would try again,” Homan said. Two years later, he ran as a Republican and won by 6,000-plus votes.
“What I found out was that none of the people who encouraged me to seek office told me how much time it would take to do the job,” he said. “It's about 2,000 hours per year. … The first year there were five special sessions; it killed me financially,” Homan said. “At the end of the year I ended up with no salary. It all went to overhead.
The (physicians) who used to refer patients to me stopped because they couldn't depend on me being there” to treat them, he said. If not for a colleague at USF who “threw him a lifeline” by allowing him a flexible employment schedule at USF, he could not have continued his elected public service, he said.
Eight years and numerous policy changes later, Homan term-limited out of the Florida House in November, and he is thrilled to have more time to enjoy with his wife of 20 years, Carol Hodges, MD, an internist at the Veterans Administration's James Haley Medical Center in Tampa.
Others who seek his counsel about offering themselves for elective office, are privy to the straightforward advice that Homan was not: “I tell them there are three things to consider: Your family, your job and the Florida Legislature. Pick two, because you don't have time for all three.” Homan was similarly candid about his tenure in the Legislature, and his relationships with lobbyists and political partisans. “People in Tallahassee didn't like me too much because they didn't know what I was going to say,” he said.
Now that the state capitol is in his rear-view mirror, Homan, 67, is looking forward to spending more time with Hodges (see related story), whom he met at UCH 20 years ago, and their blended family of five children and four grandchildren.
Homan, who is an assistant professor of orthopedics and sports medicine at USF, as well as chief of orthopedic surgery at UCH, also is eager to fully dedicate his time to the profession he has loved for three decades.
“What’s cool about this (specialty) is that people aren't sick; they're just broken. And most of the time you can fix them. And if you can't fix them, you can at least make them better,” Homan said. “Patients love you because you have made them better.”
Maybe, like Homan, they'll never regret their decision.
Doctor Duo Chases Adventure
Orthopedic surgeon Ed Homan, and internist Carol Hodges, met 20 years ago at University Community Hospital. Since then, this duo of medical doctors has taken their relationship to new heights and distances, figuratively and literally.
“We’re very athletic,” Homan said. In addition to biking and canoeing, they began to train and compete – against each other – in the St. Anthony's Triathlon. “She’s won five and I've won four,” he said.
For most, that would be enough of a challenge. But for Homan and Hodges, it was just a beginning.
“About 15 years ago we read an article in the Tampa Tribune about mountain climbing,” Homan recalled. The article was about climbing Mount Whitney in California, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. “We borrowed a tent, went out there and did it,” Homan said.
“Then, Carol had a sister in Seattle who invited us to come there and climb Mount Ranier. We thought ‘Why not?’” he said. But the difference was that Mount Ranier was covered in snow. “We failed to summit the first time. We fell 1,000 feet short. We just didn't have it in us to finish,” Homan said. “That’s when we realized that having the will is not enough; you have to have the legs, too.”
On the flight home, the plane passed over Mount Ranier. “We looked down and promised ourselves that we would come back the next year,” Homan said.
They completed their annual triathlon in April that year, and from then until August they trained intensely. Three days a week “we climbed 500 flights of stairs in 5 hours with a 50-pound backpack. Up and down. Up and down. It was boring as hell,” Homan remembered. “But when we got back to there, we had legs like telephone poles. We could have run up that mountain.”
In the process, Homan and Hodges met Phil Ershler, who was a guide for the authors of the seminal mountain-climbing book Seven Summits. Ershler and his wife, Susan, were the first couple to scale the seven mountains featured in the book, which are the highest peaks on each continent.
“Ershler asked ‘Why not join us next year (1998) to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?’ We did and it was our best vacation ever,” Homan said. The next year we climbed Mount Elbrus” in far eastern Europe, Homan said.
Will he and Hodges run the table of the continental crowns? “No, they are too remot and would take too much time,” Homan said.
For now, he and Hodges are content to continue their annual vacation rituals: “We take three vacations every year,” he said. “We ski for a week every winter. We take one week for a romantic getaway. And we take an ‘adventure’ vacation.” This year, Homan and Hodges are going to the headwaters of the Amazon River in Patagonia. “It’s in the rain forest. We can't wait.”