David Watson, MD, opened his family practice in Yoakum, TX, more than 50 years ago, and charged his first patients just $3 for office visits and $5 for house calls. Healthcare has changed dramatically in the five decades since, but Watson continues to serve the town of 6,000 located about 90 miles east of San Antonio. For that service, Irving, TX-based Staff Care, a physician staffing company, named him the 2008 Country Doctor of the Year.
On practicing rural medicine: We wanted the small-town lifestyle and we haven't found that to be a challenge. You don't make a lot of money, but you have a lot of friends. I don't regret doing it. I don't have a second home or boat or airplane or yacht. But it's a comfortable lifestyle. The interaction with your patients is the most rewarding thing.
On healthcare's changes since 1958: There's much more complexity now. We have many more medications. The medications are much more effective. People are living longer, so a lot of your practice is involved with taking care of people in their 80s and 90s now. In 1958 we didn't have many people over 80. [Healthcare] is better for the patients, but it's not better for the primary care physicians because we end up doing a lot of work with very little remuneration—signing papers, authorizing refills, authorizing medical equipment.
On advice for new doctors: Listen to your patients. If you listen to your patients, they'll tell you what's wrong with them. That's what most patients like about their family care doctors—they actually listen to them and try to do what's appropriate. I have patients who go to see specialists who have electronic medical records, and they tell me, "He spent all his time typing into his palm pilot and he wouldn't listen to me. He wouldn't look at me; he was looking at his keyboard." That's a common complaint.
On gifts from patients: People bring vegetables and fresh meat, homemade items, things like that. I'm a golfer, and I had a lady who brought her husband's 2-iron. I used to play golf with this guy, and after he died she wanted me to have his 2-iron. She brought me his golf club, and I have it in my office.