Front Row: Gaye Mitchell, Bette Wilson, Reba McDuffie
Middle Row: Dr. Eldon Tommey, Dr. Moises Menendez, Sandy Dennis. Betty Tucker, Toni Polk, Janice Fitzgerald, Diana Cardin, Faye Evans, Dr. Robert Tommey
Back Row: Dr. David Yocum, David Love, Brenda Murphree, Dr. Bill Scurlock, Dr. John Moore, Kathy Hicks, Lori Haynie
I began my private practice of general surgery in November, 1971 in my hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas following an active duty assignment in the United States Air Force. I was able to serve our country from 1969 to 1971 as the only surgeon at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. Cathy and I were thankful for the privilege of serving in this manner and were grateful I was not given a duty assignment in Vietnam where the war was raging during those years.
Deciding to go back home was not too difficult, because my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had been there in Family Practice since 1957, and I was joining him in his newly built office. The office was located between the two hospitals which were 4 blocks apart. It seemed initially like an ideal situation, since he would be referring all of his surgical patients to me. The problem was I would also be treating some general medical patients, in addition to taking care of his medical patients when I was on call. I was not adequately trained to treat hypertension, diabetes, heart problems and other general medical problems. I had to learn those treatment skills in addition to treating my own surgical patients. It was not the best situation, but the real problem was in trying to have a referral surgical practice. The other family doctors in town were not inclined to refer their patients to me thinking those patients might not return to their care following their operation. After 2 years of serving with Bubba in his office we both decided a change was needed for my sake.
There were 3 other general surgeons at the time in El Dorado who practiced in the same office; Dr. David Yocum, Dr. Eldon Tommey and Dr. Bill Scurlock. Early in 1974 I approached them with a request to join them to which they quickly consented. We decided the name of our newly formed clinic would be The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas. On April 1, 1974 I officially began my surgical career with the group and would continue with them throughout our time of living in El Dorado. Kathy Hicks, our receptionist also began her career on that date and continued to serve beyond my retirement in late 1999. In the ensuing years our clinic would add two other surgeons; Dr. Moises Menendez and Dr. Robert Tommey who is Dr. Eldon Tommey’s son.
The support office staff was led by Faye Evans who had been employed by Drs. Yocum and Dr. Tommey in 1953. Her knowledge and expertise in office management was unparalleled, and although she was kind, her relationship skills were considered by some too rigid. There was never a question of who was in charge of the support staff, and her decisions were always made in light of what was best for the clinic. I quickly adapted to this new practice style and adjusted to working in a much larger clinic. As we added the two additional surgeons the staff of nurses and support staff also increased.
Throughout the years there was such an attitude of peace and unity of purpose at the Surgical Clinic, the support staff dubbed themselves as “The Best Bunch.” There was such harmony and minimal competitiveness it was a pleasure to work there each day. Initially the clinic was located on North Washington Street near downtown, but eventually moved to the campus of The Medical Center of South Arkansas (MCSA) when the hospital built an office for us. The setting was ideal because we could park our cars at the office and walk next door to the hospital. Even though there remained two hospitals throughout my career, the majority of our surgical procedures were done at MCSA instead of Warner Brown Hospital.
After Dr. Menendez and Dr. Robert joined the clinic in the latter part of the 1970’s, the clinic added David Love as a Surgical Assistant. David had been trained in the U.S. Navy as a medical corpsman and later received specific and more specialized training at the University Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. He was first assistant on our cases in the operating room and took night call with us on emergency cases. He became a valuable part of our team and worked with all the surgeons for the following 25 + years. I did thousands of operative cases with David, and he was the most skilled assistant I ever worked alongside.
The nursing staff was outstanding with Reba McDuffie as the most experienced office nurse. She had worked with Dr. Eldon Tommey as his nurse since he began with Dr. Yocum in the early 1950’s. Because their practice was slower in the earlier years she also assisted Dr. Yocum in the office. As more surgeons were added so were additional nurses. Sandy Dennis assisted Dr. Scurlock in the office while Toni Polk was my nurse. She also accompanied me in the operating room, and was the lead surgical nurse on every case including emergency cases. When Dr. Menendez joined the clinic his office nurse was Brenda Murphree who also assisted him on all of his operative cases. It was a special blessing to have our own nurses assist us in the operating room, because they knew the exact instruments and sutures we needed for every case. Their particular skills made each case go more quickly and safely.
An additional blessing we had was having our own nurse anesthetist, Betty Wilson giving anesthesia to our patients. She started working with Drs. Yocum and Tommey in the 1960’s and continued until her retirement in December, 1983. She was an outstanding anesthetist and safely served our patients for all of her practice years.
In the early years of my practice there were a few of the family physicians who continued doing surgical procedures, but by the time Dr. Menendez joined the clinic, our staff were the only general surgeons within a 30 mile radius of El Dorado. My surgical colleagues were outstanding men of character and surgical skill. I was continually learning from them, and our personal relationships with each other were an added blessing. Each man was devoted to his wife and family, was a regular church attender and did not use beverage alcohol. There was never a time when I heard one of my colleagues use foul language or tell an off-color story or joke. The conversations in the operating room were always professional and never profane. I learned from earlier experiences while in training these character qualities were not often seen in surgeons.
I thank my God for the 25 years I worked with the staff of The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas. Working in a surgical environment can at times be extremely demanding and stressful, but I can truthfully say I thoroughly enjoyed going to work every day. All of my remembrances are good ones, and it is because I was working with and for a wonderful group called The Best Bunch.