The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks – Part 2: The Death of a Vision

Free Clinic


On October 1, 1999 I assumed the position of Medical Director of Indian Rocks Medical Center. The pathway to the position began in the spring of that year, and now Cathy and I made the decision to move our lives and our ministry to join The First Baptist Chuch of Indian Rocks in Largo, Florida. I was confident God had clearly directed me to this position, but Cathy was less certain. She said she believed it was God’s will for her to be supportive of me, and thus she consented to this major life change.

Upon arrival we began searching for a suitable home and with the help of a real estate agent found the perfect home for us in Clearwater, which was a 20 minute drive from the church. After we had our household goods moved into this lovely home which was not far from the beach, we at least had this part of our mission secured. Upon applying for a Florida state medical licence we would face our first major obstacle in Florida. I had been assured of getting a licence by reciprocity without taking the Florida board examination, because I was board certified in general surgery. What I didn’t know was the information was correct if I had been re-certified within the previous 10 years. Because I was initially certified in the early 1970’s I was not required by the surgical board to take the re-certification exam, so the result was I did have to take the Florida state medical exam.

I had to now spend the next 2 months intensively studying for an exam that many doctors right out of training are not able to pass. I studied and prayed while Cathy prayed because our remaining in Florida hinged on the result of this exam! I took the exam in December in Tampa, and it was an 8 hour computerized exam with which I had no prior experience. There was an agonizing wait of almost 3 weeks before I received the result; but praise God I passed. I had to appear for an interview before the full State Medical Board in Orlando in January 2000, and then I was finally granted a license to practice medicine and surgery in Florida. It seemed at this point all of our major barriers had been scaled.

Throughout all of this time I was working for the church as a staff member, having been ordained as a pastor by the church in November during the Thanksgiving week. I was allowed to preach on several occasions and was responsible, along with the other pastors for baptisms and hospital visitation. Cathy and I were teaching a School school class for senior adults, and that class grew quickly from 5 people to over 60 in a matter of a few months. We were both ministering to them in home visits, class fellowships in homes and restaurants, hospital visitation and just loving on them. The majority of people living in Florida have moved there, and it is unusual to find someone who was born and raised in the state. Consequently these folks from every part of the country are craving friendships and solid Christian principles on which to build and maintain their lives. This part of our church life was fulfilling, but the medical part which had brought us there was beset with problems.

Initially the concept of the clinic was one of a minor emergency facility treating patients with injuries, minor medical problems and those needing minor surgical procedures. As a general surgeon I was qualified to handle those types of problems. In addition I was to be the team physician for the Christian school and possibly teach a hygiene class and perhaps biology at the school. The clinic concept began evolving to become more of a family medical clinic in which I would be responsible for treating  chronic problems like hypertension, diabetes, heart problems and pediatric illnesses. These problems were outside my area of expertise and would be placing the clinic and me in a vulnerable position given the medical liability environment of Florida. The structure of the governing board of the clinic included 2 physicians both of whom were specialists, and neither had any primary health care experience. From a medical standpoint they were not beneficial to me in an advisory capacity. The chairman of the board was not a medical professional, and I was an ex-officio member who was not given a vote on any board action. After the clinic opened in February with the usual snags associated with a new clinic, I found this practice model was not going to work for me or for the clinic. I tried for 2 months to work through the barriers but became more frustrated the harder I tried. In early May with the counsel of Cathy and Bubba for his medical expertise, I made the decision to resign immediately from the clinic, and we began the process of re-ordering our lives and ministry.

Cathy and I decided to move to Fayetteville, Arkansas where our daughter Ginny and her husband John Luther lived. I would explore the possibility of working as a wound care physician or possibly as an ER physician. I felt like a failure in terms of what I believed God had clearly spoken to me regarding a faith-based medical clinic. I could not allow myself to be paralyzed with self-pity but was willing to begin the re-building of a medical practice and the re-structuring of our lives in another city. This re-location process represented 2 major moves within an 8 month period, but Cathy is very resiliant and we were excited to move back closer to family. It was very disappointing and a little intimidating for a 60-year-old unemployed physician who had never experienced a major professional life failure, to begin looking for a job. I could not have made such an emotional transition in life without the love, prayers and support of Cathy.  I assumed that a faith-based medical clinic was not to be in my future and I stopped praying about such an idea.  ——–to be continued.

Dr. John

2 thoughts on “The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks – Part 2: The Death of a Vision

  1. Yeah! The story got happy because God took you far away, but thankfully He answered my prayer and brought you and Mom right to me!

  2. I have found through plenty of times of failure that God always uses these events. I’ve learned the hard way that “there’s nothing wasted in God’s economy.” Knowing you and Cathy, I’m eager to hear how God used this tough season in your lives in powerful ways.

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