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 move to join The First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks in Largo, Florida. I was confident God had clearly directed us here, but Cathy was less certain. She believed it was God’s will for her to be supportive of me and thus consented to this major life change.

Upon arrival we began the search for a suitable home with the help of a real estate agent and found our perfect home in Clearwater, which was a 20 minute drive from the church. The house was a short walk to the beach, and we felt blessed to find our home so quickly. Upon applying for a Florida state medical license we would face our first major obstacle. I had been assured by a physician on the Indian Rocks Medical Center board I could get a license by reciprocity because I was board certified in general surgery. Unfortunately I had not fact checked the information. Florida issues reciprocal medical licenses to all board certified physicians if they have been re-certified within the previous ten years . Because I was initially certified in general surgery in the early 1970’s I was not required by the surgical board to take a re-certification exam. The result was I did have to take the Florida state medical examination.

I had to spend the next two months studying for an exam which many doctors right out of  training are not able to pass. I studied and prayed while Cathy prayed because our future in Florida hinged on the result of this exam. I took the exam in December in Tampa, there was an agonizing wait of almost three weeks before I received the result. Praise God I passed. I had to appear for an interview before the full State Medical Board in Orlando in January, 2000 and was then granted a license to practice in Florida. It seemed all of our major barriers had been removed.

Throughout this time I was working as a church a staff member, having been ordained by the church as a pastor in November during the Thanksgiving week. I was allowed to preach  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 from five people initially to over sixty in a matter of a few months. We were 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 had moved from other states, and it was unusual to find someone who was born and raised there. Consequently many are craving friendships and solid Christian principles on which to build and maintain their lives. This part of our experience at Indian Rocks 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 minor office surgical procedures. As a general surgeon I was qualified to handle these problems. In addition I would be the team physician for the Christian school and have some teaching responsibilities at the school. The clinic concept began evolving to become more of a family medical clinic in which I would be responsible for treating 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.

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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