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Ernst retires from general surgery after 34 years

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Ron Ernst

Dr. Ron Ernst, pictured with his wife, Ann, retired on April 30. Ernst opened Columbus General Surgery 34 years ago.

A familiar face has put down his stethoscope after spending more than three decades at Columbus Community Hospital.

Dr. Ron Ernst retired on April 30, ending a career at Columbus General Surgery that has spanned 34 years.

"My goal was not to retire when I had to, but when I wanted to," Ernst said.

The timing was right. Ernst said he feels the community is in a good place with general surgery, with Drs. Myron Morse, Jeremy Albin and Jacob Oran at the clinic. He is in good health and is ready to start focusing on the next chapter of his life as a grandfather.

His wife, Ann, is happy she will get her husband back after he has spent so many years dedicated to caring for the people in his hometown.

Ernst was born on a farm near Duncan and moved with his family to Columbus when he was 5 years old. In high school, he developed a love for medicine when Dr. Ervin Heiser, a local general surgeon and family friend, took Ernst under his wing.

Heiser invited Ernst to watch operations.

"I jumped all over that opportunity," Ernst said.

He was only 16 or 17 years old, but Ernst said he knew then that he wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

"I was on a mission when I went to college," he said. "I didn't explore other options at all. My goal was to be a general surgeon and hopefully live in Columbus."

Being back home was important to Ernst so he could be close to family. Ann also calls Columbus her hometown. She and Ernst grew up together starting in seventh grade when they attended the same junior high school. They shared many of the same classes and became friends. Romance bloomed when they went to prom together.

"Our first official date was senior prom," Ann said. "Neither one of us had a date, so we went together. We just clicked."

After high school, Ernst attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and majored in biological science. In 1978, he was accepted into the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine in Omaha, then began his surgical residency at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kansas, in 1982.

The couple returned to Columbus when Ernst began his solo practice in June 1987. Opening Columbus General Surgery was a leap of faith.

"Half of the doctors in town told me not to come to Columbus," Ernst said. "Even Dr. Heiser told me to go to a big city to practice because that is where I'd get to do the big operations."

He was willing to give up performing those types of surgeries to be back home. With a line of credit in hand, he took a chance and rented office space from Columbus Community Hospital. The practice opened with two employees — Ernst and Helen Goering, a nurse who also was the receptionist and billing clerk.

Goering, who lives in Kansas and worked at the practice for about five years, said Columbus has been lucky to have Ernst as a doctor.

"He was always great to work with," Goering said. "He was so easy-going, even though he was starting a new practice from scratch."

Colleagues said Ernst always has remained a dedicated surgeon and put his patients first.

"I have traveled all over the country working at 17 other hospitals, and it is so rare to find a physician who is so highly committed to his patients, family and community as Dr. Ernst is," said Sue Hrnicek, director of surgical services at CCH. "He values everyone's opinions, strives for excellence in all aspects of his patient's care, and has incredible morals and integrity."

Ernst is a self-described worrier. There are some cases over the course of his career that he can't stop thinking about because he said they didn't go exactly the way he wanted. He rarely reflects on all the successes he had.

His wife said that is because he is so humble.

"I'm not overly proud of the things I have done," Ernst said. "I always think about the things that I could have and should have done better. As a doctor, I have always felt that you have to evolve and stay on top of things. You don't pat yourself on the back because you are doing the right thing.

Ernst practiced by himself at Columbus General Surgery until 1998, when Morse joined the practice. Ernest hired Albin in 2014 and Oran in 2021.

Albin said Ernst taught him that the best qualities a doctor can possess are humility, equanimity and availability to patients, partners and other doctors.

"I didn't know what to expect coming out of residency and joining an established practice, but from the moment I arrived, Dr. Ernst took me under his wing and showed me the ropes," Albin said. "I knew that I had the requisite skills to be a general surgeon, but Dr. Ernst helped me to refine them even further and allowed me to develop the confidence required to excel. He taught directly and by example. He was never pushy or dogmatic but always assertive."

During his career, Ernst was instrumental in opening the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Health Center in the Healthpark Medical Office Building at CCH.

"Over the years, Dr. Ernst and Mrs. Ernst showed each of us such hospitality with so many wonderful memories within and outside of the hospital walls," said Jen Fjell, WOC Clinic nurse manager. "Each day was different, but Dr. Ernst always took each day and was up for the new challenge. The clinic is what it is today because of the compassion and expertise of Dr. Ernst, and our community will be forever grateful."

Ernst also developed a mentoring program with other Nebraska general surgeons for first-year medical students to learn about working in rural hospitals. He is a member of the American College of Surgeons, serving as the president of the Nebraska chapter for two terms, and was on the governing board of the College of Surgeons for three years.

He credited his wife, a nurse who assisted at Columbus General Surgery, for providing excellent support throughout his career. Ernst hopes to make up for lost time with his family now that he is retired. He also wants to be involved with local organizations to stay connected to the city he enjoys so much.

"I want to continue to help the community and look for ways to serve," he said. "I love Columbus, and I want to stay a part of it."

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