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Celebrating Dr. David Coster – Three Decades of Rural Surgical Expertise and Innovation

May 17, 2022

(Grinnell, IA – May 13, 2022) UnityPoint Health® – Grinnell Regional Medical Center (GRMC) celebrates David Coster, MD, FACS, and his more than three decades of career dedication. Dr. Coster has cared for thousands of patients and numerous communities. We are pleased to share his recollection of career highlights and reflections of his time at GRMC. 

retirement celebration will take place on June 1 between 2 – 4 p.m. on the south side of GRMC in the Healing Garden. A recognition ceremony will take place at 2:30 p.m. GRMC invites all who want to offer well wishes to join us in celebrating the outstanding career of Dr. David Coster. 

Dr. David Coster summarizes his career objective by saying, “I wanted to prove that a smaller, rural hospital could be a powerful and innovative medical center.” Though simple in statement, it was much more remarkable in practice. 

Coster embraced a career in medicine with a personal passion and drive. He felt drawn to the field due to family trauma related to the loss of two brothers in infancy, one brother in an accident and a cousin lost to a gunshot wound. These traumatic childhood events led the New Sharon, Iowa native to do something extraordinary – create a surgery powerhouse in small town Grinnell, Iowa. 

“It seems like just the other day I was 31 years old and running up the back stairs of the hospital for my first day of work,” he says. “Now, I’m retiring at the top of my game and I know what I did during my career was important and I positively impacted a lot of patients along the way.”

Coster attended Evangel College in Missouri where he earned an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry. He then received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. He returned to Iowa to complete his surgical residency at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines. In 1991, he reached out to Grinnell surgeon, Dr. Warren Bower. This connection eventually led Coster to move to Grinnell where he began his local surgical practice in 1991. 

“Dr. Bower always said, ‘availability is what matters,’” shares Coster. “I learned that when someone asks you if you can do something, the answer is never no. It’s either a yes or let me look into it and then yes.” 

This somewhat radical way of thinking gave Coster the courage to pursue innovation. Coster recalled being the first doctor in Iowa to perform several different types of complex laparoscopic minimally invasive surgeries. This accomplishment changed patient care from an in-patient stay to an outpatient surgery. Specifically, anti-reflux procedures that Coster himself helped design, changed a seven-day in-patient experience to an outpatient procedure. Coster led the way for GRMC to be the first hospital to practice anti-reflux surgery, splenectomy and biliary procedures laparoscopically. 

Coster warmly reminisces about several career milestones:

  • He was instrumental in establishing a formal trauma program in Grinnell. This included being the first medical director for Ambulance Services which provided training for on-the-scene trauma. 
  • He championed the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQUIP) leading GRMC to implement the nation-wide system, allowing medical staff to truly compare quality related data with the rest of the United States. 
  • He helped to fully develop the surgical department. Re-writing surgery department rules and re-designing the governance structure of the department. 
  • In 1996, he was named the Outstanding Young Iowan by the Iowa Jaycee’s and finished third place as Outstanding Young American.
  • From 1998-2001, he played a crucial role in the Building on Excellence fundraising campaign which raised more than $12 million to update the operating Room, Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Room.
  • He was a pioneer in hiring the first physician’s assistant at GRMC which created more one-on-one time between patients and providers.
  • He created an award-winning corporate acute care clinic for Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company under the direction of Grinnell Mutual’s CEO, Larry Jansen that proved to be highly effective in reducing healthcare costs for the company. 

In 1999, GRMC was one of only two locations in Iowa to perform bariatric surgery. When insurance companies began covering the procedure, Grinnell’s bariatric surgery case load went from 15 surgeries per year to over 400 in the early 2000’s. In the following years, bariatric procedures have remained steady at around 250 per year.  

The most recent wave in technology came with robotics. Coster quickly became a well-respected robotics surgeon. GRMC received the Davinci Xi robot, one of only 30 that were made. This allowed Coster to use an advanced set of instruments to perform robotic assisted minimally invasive surgeries. In March of 2020, Coster performed his 1000th robotic procedure.

Coster’s reach went beyond what happened within the walls of GRMC. He was a mentor, and he created a destination for surgical education. Not only did he write many clinical research papers and present them at national and international conferences, but surgeons from all around the country would come to learn his procedures. 

Coster found many different aspects of his career rewarding. Specifically, he enjoyed delivering babies via cesarean section and performing transgender top surgeries. The instant joy from these procedures will be felt for years to come.

“There is no moment more gratifying than knowing your work has saved lives,” Coster says. 

Coster is excited for the future of GRMC and the surgical department, now under the leadership of Dr. Elizabeth Tigges. Drs. Phillip Bilderback and Mahmoud Tayash will continue providing the quality general surgical and bariatric surgical skills GRMC patients have grown to trust. 

“I don’t like the idea of just saying I’m retired. I’m looking forward to my next chapter,” Coster says. “Which happens to start with writing a couple books.”

Coster has a memoir written that he hopes to have published within the next year and also has plans for additional publications. He looks forward to gardening and continuing growing in his expertise of the Seraphim pigeon, one of the rarest pigeon breeds in the United States. Finally, he is looking forward to spending time traveling with his partner, Kevin, and spending time with all three of his sons and their wives. 

“I have a great deal of gratitude for the community. They have put their trust in me during all these years. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do,” says Coster. “This rural hospital in Grinnell, Iowa, became a powerhouse in healthcare and I’m leaving it in great hands to continue that legacy.”

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