Surgeon of the world
Dr. Randell Skau brings a wealth of experience to his job
Dr. Randell Skau is a citizen of the world. He was born and raised in India, where his parents were on a religious mission. He went to college in the Napa Valley and studied medicine in Southern California before working in Tennessee. He spent 10 years in Nigeria, along with taking medical-mission trips to Malaysia, Thailand, Zambia and Antigua. Then he found himself in Maine.
Since autumn 2007, Skau has called Butte County home. He performs general surgery at Oroville Hospital and sees patients in his office on the medical-center grounds. He and his wife, Melinda, a family physician, still take medical missions around the world. Their most recent trips have been to Fiji and Ethiopia.
So how did this international man of medicine wind up in Oroville? Simply put, he wanted a place near relatives that his family—teenage son and daughter—could call home.
“I went back to Nigeria once after a visit here and virtually sat down and cried because I felt like I had given my kids wings but no roots,” Skau said. “But, then, that’s the way I grew up.”
Skau’s paternal grandparents settled in the Napa Valley after decades as missionaries in Asia—primarily India, but also Burma. His parents spent most of the 1950s and ’60s in India, which is how he happened to be born there. He first visited his homeland, the United States, when he was 6.
“One of the things I appreciated about mission life as a child was the simplicity, the time with family,” Skau explained. “It seemed that outside of their working life, they [his parents] were home with us. There are fewer distractions to take you away from the family, so in many ways your work is at home.”
Skau graduated from Pacific Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution, in 1978. He completed both medical school and surgical residency at world-renowned Loma Linda University. In 1994, he, Melinda and their young children left Tennessee for Nigeria.
For one year, he worked at a hospital in a town of 50,000 that also had a teaching hospital. Most of the time, though, he worked in a small hospital in a rural town of 15,000 that, because of its distance from a major medical center, drew patients from a wide area.
Skau became a jack of all trades. Along with general surgery, he would perform orthopedic and heart surgeries. He’d deliver babies, particularly when complications arose. He’d treat patients with tuberculosis and typhoid.
“All this with rather limited support systems,” Skau said. “We did not even have an anesthesiologist or anesthetist; I did all the anesthesia myself. It was usually just me and a locally trained operating-room assistant to take care of what four or five people would do in an operating room here.
“One learns to be adaptable and use a little bit of ingenuity to do the things you don’t have the equipment for or personnel for, and just have to find new ways of getting things done.”
Skau was the only doctor in the hospital, at least until his wife joined him part time.
“The first few years, our children were pretty young [ages 6 and 4 when they arrived], and she stayed home and helped with their schooling,” he said. “She started realizing, and told our kids, ‘We’re either going to have to leave Nigeria or I’m going to have to help out Dad in the hospital.’ Our kids were in love with Nigeria like we were, and they were getting to an age where they were able to be more independent, so she was able to come down in the mornings and spend a few hours seeing patients.”
Meanwhile, Skau’s responsibilities grew. He became an administrator who not only oversaw the pharmacy but also kept an eye on the finances.
In all, Skau found the experi-ence in Nigeria “extremely rewarding” and one that “stretched one beyond one’s comfort zone.”
“I was working with people who often had very few other options for medical care, and they were very appreciative of the care they otherwise wouldn’t get,” he said. “It also was challenging, because oftentimes I had to do things I wasn’t specifically trained to do in the U.S.
“You’d want to send people to bigger hospitals or specialty places, but they just didn’t have the resources—often they’d say, ‘If you can’t do it here, I’m going home to die.’ So you end up doing a lot of things you wouldn’t end up doing here in the United States.”
In 2003, Skau and his family returned to America. He took a job in Maine, but after two and a half years, they resettled in Oroville.
“We liked the Gold Country area,” Skau said, “and when we found the opening here, it seemed like the hospital and staff was a good fit.”
His time overseas has given Skau a distinct world view.
“You do get a perspective of the needs of the world and the blessings of the U.S.,” he said. “I do feel very blessed to have the opportunities that this country has afforded. It’s been tremendous to be able to go around the world from that perspective.”
As such, he encourages others to follow in his footsteps—not out of arrogance, but humility. Skau is happy to talk about his experiences if they’ll inspire others to take medical missions or serve others in whatever way they can.
“I’d like people to know that God is an amazing god who can do amazing things,” he said. “In a place with few resources, you need to depend on someone other than yourself. We’ve lost an awful lot of patients; we also witnessed miracles. But we certainly found we weren’t the ones ultimately responsible—God is. We can just do the best we can.”