Q&A with Sonny Kornegay, M.D., ’74, president, College of Medicine Alumni Association Board

November 09, 2020
Dr. Kornegay

We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Sonny Kornegay has been elected to serves as the president of the College of Medicine Alumni Association. Dr. Kornegay will serve as the president for two years. He is a retired orthopedic surgeon and lives in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

What is your medical specialty?

Retired orthopedic surgeon

What about your chosen specialty appealed to you?

I had been involved in sports all my life, including track and field in college, so the sports medicine aspect of orthopedics was attractive. During summers in college and holidays early in medical school, I enjoyed construction work. That experience made the more technical, Neanderthal aspects of orthopedics very attractive. Dr. John Arthur Siegling was an outstanding individual and headed an outstanding program. The people in the program in Charleston were great folks. Residents Joe Thompson, Bob Blair, Dowse Rustin and Al Coates were very encouraging. People in the program and training were very close, almost like a family. I knew I wanted to be part of that.

How has the practice of medicine changed during your career?

Medicine has changed so much since I started practice. When I finished training, a doctor was his own boss. The practice of medicine was a calling. It still is, but it has become much more a business and is run largely by businesspeople rather than by physicians. Physicians have become highly skilled technicians rather than directors of the practice of medicine. That is not an indictment of the current system but to say the world has changed. It is no longer possible to spend one’s time practicing medicine, think about all the things a physician needs to think about to care for his patients, and run business at the competitive level required by today’s standards. There is just so much going on from a business standpoint, not to mention computerized medical records and interface with government and insurance carriers.

Technology is the second greatest area of change. We can do so much more for people than when I started out. Procedures that were in their infancy while I was in training became, over time, the most common things I did. Joint arthroscopy is a prime example as is joint arthroplasty techniques. The computerized medical record has also drastically changed the landscape of how we practice. Occasionally technology has triumphed over reason, but this is also how we move forward. Finally, the use of antibiotics had a big influence on orthopedics. Early on, we were somewhat limited in the number of antibiotics available. Infection in bone is still a "big deal," but we are so much better armed to deal with it.

Why have you chosen to stay involved with the College of Medicine as an alumnus?

I had such a good experience at MUSC in school and in training. I feel I owe the medical school so much. MUSC provided me the opportunity to become a physician, as well as the opportunity to obtain my post-graduate training in orthopedic surgery. I am deeply grateful for those opportunities, so it is a real pleasure to give back. Our youngest daughter recently graduated from MUSC and it was a lot of fun to relive medical school through her. It was fascinating to see how things have changed so much, and yet other things not at all. I still have so many fond recollections of my time at MUSC. There were so many outstanding people who were great role models and teachers.

Is there a quote or saying that inspires you or that you try to live by?

Dr. Siegling had a wonderful saying that I adopted in my practice: “Be not the first by which the new is tried nor the last to lay the old aside.” It served me well throughout the years.

How do you enjoy spending your free time?

I am a water person. If I’m on the water, I’m happy. I learned to surf and sail in Charleston. I stopped surfing a few years ago but still enjoy sailing. I also enjoy ‘wetting a hook.” Wood working is another interest. Right now, I’m building “grandpa toys” for our first grandbaby and building sailboat half models. I also work with a group that builds handicap ramps for people in our community. Project Healing Waters is a service group for veterans that I volunteer with. We teach fly fishing, fly tying, and fly rod building and share fellowship with veterans. My wife and I enjoy golf quite a lot. The fact that we don’t keep score probably contributes greatly to our enjoyment of the game.

What advice would you give to incoming medical students?

 Enjoy the journey! You have joined the greatest of professions. It’s about service to others. Be kind and smile. That person in your office or on the operating room table is at least concerned and probably frightened. Remember, too, that person you are treating is loved by somebody and has a family. Include them in your care. Simply treat folks the way you would want your family or yourself treated. No matter how skilled and superbly trained you become, remain low key. Arrogance never plays well. As a lifetime student, open yourself up to learn all you can. Avoid deciding too early what you think you need to know. You simply can’t know what you may need down the road. Finally, in school, in training, and in practice, you will experience incredibly busy days as well as slow days. Learn to enjoy them both.