You may have heard the name, Dr. Gordon Leftenant, in our community. He is known for being a skilled and caring anesthesiologist at Olympia’s Capital Medical Center. Patients and co-workers alike have nothing but praise for him. But did you know that his uncle was one of the Tuskegee Airmen? That he has held medical licenses in six states? Or that he once served as a motivational speaker for youth?
After a deeply meaningful career, Dr. Leftenant will be retiring this June. He joined the team at Capital Medical Center in 2012 and quickly had a positive impact on patients and staff with his combination of technical skill and good-natured personality. By all accounts, he will definitely be missed.
Beyond his medical career and professional accomplishments, it is Dr. Leftenant’s being as a person that makes him stand out. It is clear he plays not only a professional role but also maintains a genuine friendship with everyone he works. Registered nurse, Mark Skinner, a past co-worker, says, “Dr. Leftenant is a fantastic gentleman, emphasis on the gentleman…He’s one of the kindest, most caring doctors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
A Life’s Work Helping People
The busy doctor generously shared a bit of his time recently to tell me more about his life. The former Tumwater resident grew up in Amityville, New York, and attended college and medical school in New York State. He then studied medicine at a naval air station in Florida before serving as a naval flight surgeon at a Marine Corps air station in California, where he flew aircraft and achieved the rank of lieutenant commander.
Dr. Leftenant has been practicing medicine since 1986. He has worked as an anesthesiologist in Iowa, Idaho, Washington, Maryland, New York and Alaska before returning to our state in 2011. He specialized in neuro-anesthesiology and even taught medical students. At one point he took a hiatus from medicine to serve as a motivational speaker. He also became a certified sailing instructor and spent time teaching sailing to inner-city youth.
He says he has found anesthesiology to be an excellent combination of intellectual challenge as well as an opportunity to provide hands-on care for patients. He likes that he plays an active role in helping people become better, and although it is hard work with high stakes, he likes that his job has defined hours, allowing time for family life.
Dr. Leftenant says he is grateful to have made a living by helping people through science and knowledge, walking hand-in-hand with patients through what is often a psychologically scary and life-changing event. He always aims to make the surgical journey as comfortable as possible. His goal is to bring to bear his medical expertise and caring demeanor to each patient’s experience.
He says he has enjoyed working at Capital Medical Center because it is “the ideal size for a hospital,” where patients and staff are like family, yet it is large enough to practice a range of medical specialties as well. “We view each patient as, say, a visiting cousin – a family member we are meeting for the first time,” Dr. Leftenant explains.
What’s in a Name? A Family Legacy of Excellence
Dr. Leftenant also has a very impressive family history. His uncle, Samuel Leftenant, was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, who gave his life for our country. “I was the first male in my family born after World War II, and I was named after my uncle,” the doctor says (his full name being Samuel Gordon Leftenant II, M.D.). His uncle’s heroism gave him, as he explains, “the torch that I follow – to be better, to be more in my civilian existence.”
His aunt, Nancy Leftenant-Colon, was the first African-American woman to serve in the Air Force Nurse Corps. (Read more about the Leftenant family’s incredible story in The Washington Post here and on the Homage website here.) Make sure you also hear Dr. Leftenant talk about his uncle on the Arlington National Cemetery’s YouTube channel. “I’m the fourth Lieutenant Leftenant in the family,” he says.
Leftenant’s father was a sergeant detective in Suffolk County, New York, and his mom was a registered nurse. He says this legacy of heroes in his family has been a major inspirational force in his life. “I want to honor them and make them proud along the way,” he suggests. Indeed, it is safe to say he no doubt has.
In addition to his medical work Dr. Leftenant has three grown children and is accomplished at sailing, golfing, cycling, and hiking. His wife Tresa is a certified financial planner, who runs her own business, My Financial Design.
Sailing into Retirement: What’s Next?
Dr. Leftenant and his wife will be retiring to Sun Valley, Idaho. Tresa hails from Twin Falls, and the couple has lived and worked in the state previously. He tells me he is ready to pass along the baton to a new doctor and relax in his retirement years.
Of course, he plans to stay busy – he will be doing humanitarian work with Mercy Ships, a nonprofit that takes cruise ships-turned-hospitals along the coast of Africa to provide medical services. He also wishes to enjoy his sailboat. “I look forward to spending more time on the water,” he says.
I asked Dr. Leftenant what advice he had for the younger generation. “Never be satisfied with what you’ve accomplished. Keep pushing yourself for more. Be kind – people respond to kindness. Figure out your gift – what’s most important for you to do – and follow that gift all the way. Be the best ‘you’ that you can be moment-to-moment,” he offers.
As Dr. Leftenant sails on into the placid waters of retirement, his presence will be missed at Capital Medical Center, in our community and far beyond, where his professional service and kind demeanor have been a healing touch to so many.