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'Dinosaur' Doc Meets Terminal Illness with Dignity

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 23, 2010

He said at the time that many younger physicians are talented and dedicated, but aren’t willing to put in the long hours that senior colleagues like him simply assumed came with the territory.

 “The next generation of family practice doctors doesn’t want to work as hard as we did, so it’s probably going to take two of them to equal what one of us has been doing. I can see that happening right now,” he said. “I don’t fault them for that. They have a different perspective, and it’s pretty logical what they are saying. They put a greater emphasis on family and time off and less emphasis on working all the time.”

He said all of this with no rancor, and acknowledged that he and his kind were a dying breed, adding "I know I am a dinosaur."

Doc Nichols said the working climate for primary care physicians isn’t helping, with Medicare reimbursements facing cuts and malpractice liability rising every year. The more time needed to complete paperwork, meet OSHA requirements and address other business-side concerns means less time with patients, reducing the quality of care, and revenue.

With all of those distractions, though, he had no immediate plans for retirement before the bad news came last month that melanoma he'd fought six years ago had returned and spread to his liver.

"He's been coming here since I was a little girl," island resident Jamie Bradshaw told AP, wiping her eyes after hugging Nichols. "I don't know what we'd do without him. I can't even describe in words what he's meant to all of us."

The terrible news comes as the island is readying-this week-the grand opening of a new $1.7 million medical clinic, five times bigger than the 1950s-era clinic that Nichols has staffed for more than 30 years.

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