There are thousands of excited folks moving to Florida every year and tens of thousands more who would love to move to the Sunshine State. Cathy and I were very excited to move to Largo, Florida in October, 1999 with visions of beginning a new health care ministry there.
The First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks had been working for over a year on plans for a church-based health clinic when they contacted me in the spring of 1999 to consider becoming their first medical director. Initially I was intrigued with the concept and fully believed health care and healing should be part of the ministry of the church. However, I didn’t think a clinic like this would be a good fit for a surgeon. The organizers at the church had proposed the clinic to be a minor emergency room clinic with walk-in patients needing treatment for various acute and sub-acute problems. It was not planned to be family practice clinic for treating chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease or chronic pediatric problems. I felt confident in my medical abilities to manage such a walk-in clinic.
In addition the physician would function as the sports medicine doctor for the large Christian school which was part of the church and would have the privilege of lecturing in the school on health related issues. I was also told the church wanted me ordained as a minister with full ministerial duties such as preaching, hospital visitation and baptism along marrying and burying privileges. All this would authenticate to the church body the clinic was a ministry of the church and not just a free standing medical clinic.
In my early discussions with Pastor Charlie Martin, I told him there were 2 major obstacles for our coming; the care of my aged Mom who was 89; and the requirement in Florida for taking and passing the Florida state medical exam. When I graduated from medical school 33 years earlier I didn’t think I could pass the extremely difficult exam at that time. A physician member of the FBCIR (First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks) Clinic Board reviewed the requirements for physician licensing and reported to Pastor Martin a board certified physician in surgery could receive a Florida medical licence by reciprocity and did not have to take the exam. I did not check any further into the state medical laws of Florida, which was a great mistake on my part! In the meantime, Cathy had found a wonderful, sweet Christian named Minnie Springer who agreed to be the full-time care giver for Mom. It seemed like all the pieces for us to make such a major move were falling into place.
Following a visit to Largo and interviewing with the people associated with the clinic, we agreed to accept their offer and make the move there in the fall of 1999. Cathy and I had spent hours together in discussion and prayer before coming to such a life-altering decision. We would be leaving home, family, church family and countless friends we had made for the previous 29 years in El Dorado. I was convinced this was the will of God, and although Cathy was not so convinced, she chose to go willingly while honoring my decision to go.
No sooner had we begun settling into the new home we purchased in Clearwater (a few miles away) in October of 1999, I learned the information I was given concerning the Florida Medical Board was only partially true. A board certified physician requesting a reciprocity license must have taken a re-certification exam in his specialty within the previous 10 years. I had never been required to take such an exam in general surgery! My only reasonable option at this point was to begin studying for the exam which was to be given in Tampa in early December.
I immediately began spending 6-8 hours daily in my newly furnished clinic office preparing for the exam. I tried not to think of the significant consequences for failing to make a passing score. In the meantime, Cathy and I immersed ourselves into the ministry of the church by agreeing to teach a senior adult Bible class. On our first Sunday in the class 5 people attended, and only 2 of those sweet folks were able to walk without the use of a cane or walker. We began loving on our class members by having fellowships and dinner meetings, and within 6 months the class attendance increased to over 70 dear saints! The rapid growth of the class was one of the highlights of our time in Florida.
I began my additional ministries to the entire church family by attending church staff meetings; becoming acquainted with the 20+ staff members; making church hospital visits; baptizing at least 6 new believers and even preaching a sermon one Sunday evening! Pastor Martin scheduled my ordination into the gospel ministry for the last week in November. That process required my sitting before an ordination council of 15 ordained ministers and answering all questions concerning my understanding of Biblical theology, Baptist church doctrine and clearly describing to them my personal spiritual journey.
The ordination service was a spiritual high for Cathy and me. All of our children and grandchildren were able to be present, and that was especially wonderful for us. My sister Marilyn and husband George from Austin, Texas were able to attend. Cathy’s brother George and wife Dawn came from Fort Lauderdale along with her nephew Clay Selfridge from Kissimmee, Florida. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) and one of his daughter’s, Rachel Uth from West Monroe, Louisiana attended. Our good friend and evangelist Bill Stafford from Chattanooga, Tennessee came and both he and Bubba delivered the ordination sermons. The ordination was held on the Sunday following Thanksgiving which was helpful in allowing so many of our family members to come to Florida. The entire weekend was the definite highlight of Florida experience to date, but the following week the dreaded test lay ahead.
The first week in December I drove to Tampa and took the 8 hour computerized test which was another first for me. In the previous 55 years of test taking experience, I had never used a computer to take an examination. For the following 3 weeks our anxiety level was very high awaiting the test results, but I finally received written notification that I had made a passing score!! There is no way to describe the sense of relief Cathy and I experienced. The last piece in our quest for licensure was an interview with the full Florida Medical Board in Orlando in January, 2000. ——to be continued