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Dr. Devin M. Cunning – The Future of Otolaryngology

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Dr. Devin M. Cunning

Dr. Devin M. Cunning is a physician and surgeon at Arizona Coast Ear Nose & Throat. He’s served at the facility since 1999, developing specialties in allergy, head and neck surgery, and sleep medicine. Before his time in Lake Havasu City, he worked as the General Medical Officer on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. 

Dr. Cunning attended the University of Santa Barbara and completed his otolaryngology residency at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • How Dr. Devin M. Cunning got into otolaryngology and head/neck surgery
  • What motivates Dr. Cunning every day and the stories that drive him
  • The mentors who encouraged and helped Dr. Cunning along the way
  • What is the future of otolaryngology?

In this episode…

Otolaryngology is not a field of medicine that gets talked about often. The word itself might even confuse the average person on the street. Along with similar specialties of health, most people don’t consider its importance until it directly affects them. Otolaryngology, or Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) for short, is a quickly growing field with new technology and practices leading to better treatment than ever.

Dr. Devin M. Cunning is at the forefront of ENT care, having actively served in the specialization for over 20 years. He has sat on several boards and helped bring treatment into the future, always looking for new ways to help his patients. Now, he shares some of these recent updates with you.

Dr. Mark Syms invites Dr. Devin M. Cunning, a physician and surgeon at Arizona Coast Ear Nose & Throat, to discuss the future of otolaryngology and what new methods are currently being used. Dr. Cunning discusses his career and how he’s gotten where he is. They then dive into the ENT field, the technology on the horizon, and how it can be improved. The two also touch on the real-life stories that make their work worthwhile. Hear it all on this episode of the ListenUp! Podcast.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by the Arizona Hearing Center.

The Arizona Hearing Center is a cutting-edge hearing care facility providing comprehensive, family-focused care. Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from some sort of hearing loss, more than half of whom are younger than the age of 65. That’s why the team at the Arizona Hearing Center is focused on providing the highest-quality care using innovative technologies and inclusive treatment plans. 

As the Founder of the Arizona Hearing Center, Dr. Mark Syms is passionate about helping patients effectively treat their hearing loss so that they can stay connected with their family and friends and remain independent. He knows first-hand how hearing loss can impact social connection and effective communication. By relying on three core values—empathy, education, and excellence—Dr. Syms and his team of hearing loss experts are transforming the lives of patients. 

So what are you waiting for? Stop missing out on the conversation and start improving your quality of life today!  

To learn more about the Arizona Hearing Center, visit https://www.azhear.com/ or call us at 602-307-9919. We don’t sell hearing aids—we treat your hearing loss.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to the ListenUp! Podcast where we explore hearing loss communication connections and health.

Dr. Mark Syms  0:10  

Hey everybody this is Dr. Mark Syms here. I’m the host of the ListenUp! podcast where I feature top leaders in health care. This episode is brought to you by Arizona Hearing Center. I help patients to effectively treat their hearing loss so they can connect better with their family and friends and remain independent. The reason I’m so passionate about helping patients with hearing loss is because I lost my brother Robbie twice. First from his hearing loss from radiation to his brain tumor and again when he passed away, I only care for years on the year of end I’ve performed over 10,000 year surgeries of the past 20 years. I’m the founder of the Arizona Hearing Center. I’m the author of a new book Listen Up, go to listen up hearing calm and if you want to learn more about me go to ww.azhear.com to contact us with any questions or comments. today. I’m really excited. I have Dr. Devin Cunning here. He has practiced in Lake Havasu City for since 1999. He’s attended the University of California Santa Barbara and graduate Magna Magnum Cum Laude and biology after receiving his doctor Medicine Degree from the medical college Wisconsin, he served on board the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk as the general medical officer for two years and traveled all over the Pacific. He completed his otolaryngology residency at the University of Pennsylvania. Him and I first met in a CT and ear surgery course in Los Angeles while we were both residents. He’s got amazing credentials. He’s dual board certified in all laryngology and Neck Surgery and sleep medicine. He’s a fellow in allergy after completing advanced training through the American Academy of allergic allergy. He’s a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He’s a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and the ENT Academy. He served as the Chief of Surgery joint venture board member to have su Regional Medical Center and Chief of Staff of have a su surgery center. He’s married and has four wonderful children, children. I’m sure he’s an awesome dad. He’s doing great and I’m really excited to have him here Devin, welcome.

Dr. Devin Cunning  2:04  

Thank you so much for having me. This is truly my pleasure. Pleasure to see you. 

Dr. Mark Syms  2:07  

Thanks so much. I appreciate you giving the time this is great. Hey, you know one of the things I love to find out about patients is like you know, what was your medical journey like how did you go from you know, being Devin Cunning to demonstrating who wants to aspire to be a doctor and then an end?

Dr. Devin Cunning  2:08  

Well, great question mark. I am. I’ve always been like probably a lot of us interested in biology and as a child I was very active with with animals. I was a kind of thought my journey was toward veterinary medicine. Honestly, in the beginning, I loved herpetology, snakes and reptiles and crawly things and ended up going to UC Santa Barbara a great biology University and kind of thought about a little longer thought about the my options and came to the conclusion that human medicine was going to give me a little more interaction maybe then veterinary medicine so.

Dr. Mark Syms 2:54  

You can come to our house and do snake rescue. A couple of snakes we’ve had our house we have that there’s actually these people that come and take the snakes away.

Dr. Devin Cunning  3:01  

I would love to do that. I am I love the creepy crawly things.

Dr. Mark Syms  3:05  

It’s kind of funny. So the last one we had was like a he was like a 14 year old boy that his mom drove there and he had a stock picker upper and like one of those wrappers and a pillowcase. And I said why are you into this? He just looked at me because I just love snakes. People love it. So

Dr. Devin Cunning  3:21  

I just I’m one of them. I’ve been I’ve fortunately or unfortunately been bitten by a number of snakes when I was learning but I I had those little field guide books so I made sure I wasn’t bitten by anything that was going to hurt me.

Dr. Mark Syms  3:31  

Alright era for your people medicine rather than animal medicine.

Dr. Devin Cunning  3:34  

And then when I went to UC Santa Barbara, it really became clear that that was my that was my destiny was was going to be adult medicine I originally thought about pediatrics, which kind of goes along with veteran air medicine because they can’t answer too many questions. But then as I was going through medical school I it was a personal experience. My stepfather who has since passed away had melanoma and he had it in his lip. And he had an S slander flap which for those who don’t know is a is a large cut out of a lip with part of the face moved around to reconstruct the lower lip and a neck dissection peel out lymph nodes. And although the surgery went well and he survived for a few years after that he’s to come to metastasis. And it really got my my interest in head neck surgery and otolaryngology.

Dr. Mark Syms  4:24  

That kind of sealed the deal, right? Yeah, absolutely. Okay. And so, you know, um, now you practice it for quite some time, like, tell me, you know, like, what’s your favorite part of the day? Or what is it that, you know, keeps you going every day?

Dr. Devin Cunning  4:36  

Well, you know, it really, I can tell you it’s not it’s not the computers. It’s not clicking buttons. It’s not talking to insurance companies. It really is. It does come down to the patients and I have this little saying that I say all the time to patients, I say I’m going to pull back the curtain for you. What do we really care about as doctors? We really just want you to get better. I say all my friends Renzo, I know we have two hands here. And number one, we want to keep you out of harm’s way. And hand number two, we just want you to feel better. So really the best part of my day is when somebody comes in, says, hey, you know what? I feel great. It really worked. Thank you. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a sinus procedure, or a neck dissection, where I’m feeling cancer, or as silly as it is sometimes removing Saruman wax impaction the year, it’s, it can be very satisfying when they wish they’d beam up and you see the brightness in their face. They just say thank you.

Dr. Mark Syms  5:30  

Yeah, I tell patients, I’m sure monologist expert at removing wax

Dr. Devin Cunning  5:34  

is one of the most satisfying things, my nurse practitioner or PA who I’m blessed to have working with me in the office, they get such a kick out of that because people are so doggone happy when they say I can hear again, thank you.

Dr. Mark Syms  5:45  

And no, it’s amazing. It’s the simple things that sometimes make a huge difference. And so, you know, most of us have kind of, you know, a few if not, hopefully more great patient stories like you know, you know that that time where he is something happened great. You think this is why I do this, this really makes me jazzed up. Tell us one of those great stories.

Dr. Devin Cunning  6:07  

Well, you know, again, I don’t want to sound like a mitigator Well, i were i love it all. But I mean, empty. I mean, I chose the empty first of all for a great reason. As many of us did. otolaryngology you deal with men and women, you deal with the elderly, children, adults, you deal with some life threatening conditions and you deal with some small lifestyle conditions. You can deal with cosmetic changes. Skin cancer, I mean, the breath is is staggering and otolaryngology. So for somebody who does not want to be bored otolaryngology was a great field to go into because of the breadth. That said, I can think of very specifically one right off the top of a gentleman who had a sore throat, you know, and I think you know, where this is going, had maybe a couple of antibiotics. And I take a look that we use the flexible scope to look in the throat, and I don’t see anything and I say, Well, you know, I don’t see anything but I’m a I’m a little cautious. Let’s let’s check out let’s check in a couple of weeks. And after a couple times just a hint of something. And these are the things that really make you happy when you catch something that’s early. And this is a very particular gentleman who just had a beaming smile, and was very thankful and almost adopted me as one of his kids were ended up doing an endoscopic base of tongue excision and a neck dissection pill at the cancer. And the wonderful gentlemen maintain cancer free for the remaining 15 years of his life and unfortunately passed away about two years ago, but I was close to him personally and professionally during that entire time. And that’s just one really great thing.

Dr. Mark Syms  7:47  

You know, you look you found something, you took it out and his life is saved. You know, I mean, obviously, we all passed away. So yeah, you’re not gonna stump that unless you’ve got some secret. I don’t know about you.

Dr. Devin Cunning  7:58  

I told that to you. He did it at a ripe old age. And he was happy and satisfied as a human being and that just made my day.

Dr. Mark Syms  8:04  

Oh, that’s great. That’s great. And so, you know, tell me about some of your mentors. Like when you think about, you know, somebody who made a big impact in your training or something. Tell me about?

Dr. Devin Cunning  8:15  

Well, I had a unique experience when it comes to otolaryngology, maybe a bit different than some people because my internship started in general surgery at the Naval Hospital, San Diego. So I was there and I had a friend of mine, who I went out when I was a medical student did my rotation, he said, You gotta go to do your first rotation as ENT, it’s a great specialty. I had not rotated as a medical student until I talked to him and a rotate and I said, Wow, this a great specialty guy named Mike Johnson, who’s an otolaryngologist, now, he he’s the one who got who sparked my interest. So I ended up after my general medical officer to are getting accepted for a post grad to position Buffalo, New York. I went to Buffalo for a couple years before I went to Penn. Great guy, as serendipity would have it. His name was Mark wax. And he turned he’s a head neck surgeon at University of Oregon now, but he was one of my mentors and buffalo, just a super great guy, motivated, complementary. A great mentor got me really interested in being able to have a good relationship and interaction. I ended up not going into head neck specifically as a fellowship, but a super great guy. And then segwayed over to universe University of Pennsylvania where it could have thrown a dart and they were all just wonderful, real hard charging people. Working under Dr. Kennedy, they’re really helped me with my interest, one of my major interests, which is sinus surgery. That’s been a lot of my interest as a private practitioner, but I like to call myself a renaissance otolaryngologist because I tend to still do everything I can, except let’s face it hardier surgery, which I send to Dr. Syms, thank you. And, you know, most, I tend to still be a renaissance otolaryngologist. So

Dr. Mark Syms  9:58  

so, you know, I’ve always stuck with it. Uh, you know, you’re you’re what’s the name of your practice?

Dr. Devin Cunning  10:03  

Arizona Coast Ear Nose & Throat? Because we’re on the coast of Arizona to California.

Dr. Mark Syms  10:07  

Right? Is that so that was the origin of that right? Yeah, exactly. You most your patients get back.

Dr. Devin Cunning  10:13  

Not all of them. I’ve actually had people say what, what are you talking about? The coast is California? Well, yeah, it’s kind of a play on words because we’re on the, on the Colorado River. Lake Havasu is actually a dilation of the Colorado River. It’s not a lake proper, because it’s just the Colorado River. So we get to see the beautiful sunsets over California on the west coast. But we’re on the coast of Arizona.

Dr. Mark Syms  10:33  

But you grew up on the West Coast. Is

Dr. Devin Cunning  10:36  

that right? Well, from Santa Barbara, yeah, often? Maybe not great. But surfing and scuba diving on the coast of California.

Dr. Mark Syms  10:44  

Does that one of the reasons you chose to settle in a water base? I mean, you know, frankly, there are no.

Dr. Devin Cunning  10:48  

Yeah, great question Mark. I, we, as most of us do. Most of us, I tell patients the same thing. We residents, we doctors kind of move around like professional sports players, you may end up in this city. And then the next time you’re on the opposite end of the coast. So my adventure took me from Santa Barbara, to Milwaukee, to San Diego to Buffalo, to Philadelphia, to Lake Havasu. And when I was looking, it was more regional. I was looking for practice opportunities where I could be a private practitioner. And then I was also looking geographically in the southwest more fit, you know, my mantra as close to the coast close to Mexico close to skiing, or like outdoors.

Dr. Mark Syms  11:30  

Yeah.What’s your favorite sport out of all this?

Dr. Devin Cunning  11:32  

Well, the funny thing is my favorite sport is an indoor sport right now. It’s racquetball I play twice a week. Well, but I do enjoy snow skiing, went to Utah, just recently to snow ski.

Dr. Mark Syms  11:41  

Okay. And so, you know, in terms of, you know, where you see it now, and where do you see going to, you know, what’s your your insight or your feelings about that?

Dr. Devin Cunning  11:53  

Still the best specialty a lot of people would ask, well, if you had to do it all over again, we’ve all heard that. would if you had to do it all over again statement? Well, if I had to do it all over again, I’d be no learn ologists I mean, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts. I mean, as far as medical specialties go, I hit the one that fits me personally, and most otolaryngologist, I know, feel very similar way about that. So I

Dr. Mark Syms 12:14  

you know, without before you go, I mean, what I would say is most of our peers in at&t are very happy. And so you know, they’re happy for a reason, right? Because what they like what they do all day. So it’s a great specialty. That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to it is the ENTs I knew enjoy their work every day. And there’s some other surgical specialties where people don’t aren’t happy. From my perspective, I hope they are happy. But-

Dr. Devin Cunning  12:38  

I do too. But for I agree. And again, I don’t mean to disparage any other, they’re all great, very important specialties, but otolaryngology seemed happy, as you say, and very satisfied. 

Dr. Mark Syms  12:50  

So where do you see it going? In terms of the future? 

Dr. Devin Cunning  12:52  

So yeah, great question. Um, I think technological advances has really revolutionized our field, it continues to be more and more and it has been pulled to some degree from the hospital to the surgery center, and subsequently, from the surgery center to the office. So many of the things we’re doing, we used to do standardly in the hospital have gotten to the surgery center. And many standard things from the surgery center we’re doing in the office, for example, sinus surgery, for one, being trained at a big sinus surgery Institute. That was one of the Mainstays we did and now we’re kind of doing a lot of minimally invasive type procedures right in the office and getting very good outcomes, doing that with less money and less cost to the patient. So it’s been very helpful.

Dr. Mark Syms  13:40  

That’s great. So a patient can come to your office and get sinus if obviously, they need it. It’s appropriate, absolutely in like come in, go into your office, get it done, and go out and have their sinus disease resolved.

Dr. Devin Cunning  13:55  

Absolutely. Absolutely. I like to use out again, some of our we all doctors have all our standard statements to patients. One of my standard statements to all people is really what it boils down to I stand on the shoulder of giants. We all do have the scientists, the clinicians, the people who did the original surgeries and and they are amazing the for instance, the wonderful man Howard House and Bill House, all those folks that that did a great job. We stand on the shoulders, but pragmatically, when it comes down to it in my office, I tell them what can we do to try to help the problem, right, and that that involves four things, nothing, medicines, therapy and procedures. And I kind of try to go in that order. So you know, if medicines including prescription are natural or over the counter, what can help it that’s fine. Therapy, of course can include immunotherapy for allergies, and then surgery procedures. And if it’s correct, and if it’s the right thing yet certainly some of those surgeries have been pulled into the system. Fear of the office with really good outcomes. So very pleased.

Dr. Mark Syms 15:05  

So you’re doing I assume sinus balloon surgery and surgery predominantly. And

Dr. Devin Cunning  15:10  

yeah, absolutely. Those I’m some of the big the two big areas that I would do in the office or sinus, there’s a couple, there’s balloon sinuplasty, where we, I always say we’d make small holes into big holes. So we’re doing opening little Ostium to allow air to flow in and mucous to flow out, decrease pressure and plugging in pain. And then there’s a there’s a newer procedure that I’m doing called VIV air, which is to help nasal congestion and obstruction. When people have difficulty breathing is particularly applicable for people who are on CPAP to who have difficulty using utilizing their masks due to nasal obstruction, this can be a big help for them.

Dr. Mark Syms  15:46  

The patients with sleep apnea use the positive pressure mask, yes, when

Dr. Devin Cunning  15:50  

they’re trying to get the pressure in and they have obstruction. This helps open them up. There’s the other group of people who have the chronic runny nose, they may not be allergic, but they’re they’ve got their hankie out when they’re out to the out to dinner and they’re kind of embarrassed because they’re rubbing their nose because their nose is running. The Ryanair is a procedure where we cauterize back near what’s called this fino Palatine foramen and kind of turn off some of those nerves that caused the runny nose. So that’s great stuff.

Dr. Mark Syms  16:17  

Actually, it’s awesome for me, because you know, as I said, on the ebmt, so learning about the other stuff is.

Dr. Devin Cunning  16:23  

Yeah, it’s really pretty cool, minimally invasive things. I tell everybody, you get to see what’s really interesting in medicine and with the device people is you’ll see the video, when you see the person getting ready for their procedure. And then they’re getting their procedure. And then after the procedure, and I tell them well, maybe that’s a little dramatic, a little dramatic, there’s going to be some crusting and swelling.

Dr. Mark Syms  16:48  

Yeah, well, I feel a little grimacing in the middle, a little gonna say

Dr. Devin Cunning  16:51  

at the end of the day, you know, it does make a big difference.

Dr. Mark Syms  16:56  

Well, this is great. Devin, I really appreciate your time. You know, one of the questions I always like to ask people at the end is like, you know, so say this is, you know, it’s a, we have a, an award show, or you’re getting a Lifetime Achievement Award. And it’s your time to thank every thank the people who made the biggest difference. Who do you think? Who are the people that you get to give a shout out?

Dr. Devin Cunning  17:17  

Oh, gosh, you know, I probably have to get that hook from the stage where I’d be thinking too many people. But I think my parents, you know, I think my parents, first and foremost for teaching me the value of education, and honor and hard work. I certainly thank all my mentors who allowed me to learn under them. And I will give a huge shout out to my wife, who’s been my support system, my children, and then my staff who have been wonderful. Over the years, I’ve really worked with great people who supported me. And and Last, and certainly not least, my wonderful patients. I’ve got great people. I feel very blessed to work with the people I work with. I enjoy the interaction. I enjoy the didactic, I enjoy talking around my town in my little town of having Sue, I’ve probably done 40 talks over the 20 years and I I do an annual lecture to the scrub tech at the community college and I do a talk on a every year. So it’s been a great place. It’s been a great give and take over the years in my small community. So I’ve been very blessed.

Dr. Mark Syms  18:24  

That’s great. That’s great. Well, you know, we have Devin Cunning from Lake Havasu City, he’s an Arizona Coast ENT. This has been a great time to visit with you, Devin, how can people get ahold of you if they want to contact you?

Dr. Devin Cunning  18:41  

Well, thank you. Azcoastent.com. And our phone number-

Dr. Mark Syms  18:46  

All one big Arizona coast.

Dr. Devin Cunning  18:49  

Actually, it’s AZ coastent.com. And then, and then our numbers 928-854-5368. And Google, Google me we’ve got all you know, we’ve got presence on Facebook and Instagram, both on Arizona Coast ENT on Facebook and Instagram, as well.

Dr. Mark Syms  19:09  

Great. This has been great Devin, I appreciate your time. Thanks for visiting with us. That’s always a pleasure to connect with you.

Dr. Devin Cunning  19:15  

Thank you so much, sir. Really appreciate it. Appreciate all you do out there too, with all of us who need to send you these complicated patients.

Dr. Mark Syms  19:21  

Oh, my pleasure. i It’s a privilege to take care of these people. Really? I really feel blessed and I love what I do. So we’re both well,

Dr. Devin Cunning  19:28  

It shows. 

Dr. Mark Syms  19:29  

Thanks Devin.

Dr. Devin Cunning  19:30  

Thanks, Mark.

Outro  19:34  

Thanks for tuning in to the ListenUp! Podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get updates on future episodes.

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