Small-Town Spotlight: Belleville's Dr. Cayle Goertzen

October 31, 2013

By Joe Stumpe

Goertzen video

Dr. Cayle Goertzen was working his first weekend emergency room shift at Republic County Hospital when a deadly two-vehicle accident on Highway 81 drove home the reality of his new situation.

The crash killed two people instantly. A third was airlifted to Lincoln, Neb., with injuries that would leave him paralyzed from the waist down.

"The great realization that hit me that weekend, was how isolated we are from trauma care," Goertzen said. "You better be sharp in stabilizing those patients and making sure they can make it to the next level of care."

Goertzen, who finished his studies at the University of Kansas School of Medicine–Wichita, has taken several steps to improve trauma care at Republic since his arrival here in 2007. He pushed for the hospital to get level-four trauma certification from the state of Kansas, helped reorganize the hospital's trauma room and currently serves as director of the six-county North Central Regional Trauma council. "We've really worked on this end of the hospital," he says of Republic's trauma room.

But for Goertzen, the real appeal of practicing family medicine in a rural small-town setting is that he isn't focused exclusively on providing trauma care or any other single thing.

"Family medicine gives me the chance to treat patients from birth through death and everything in between."

A typical day might see him giving a newborn his one-week checkup, stitching up a lacerated finger in the emergency room, doing what he can for coughs and colds in his clinic, and removing a gall bladder.

Belleville is a town of about 2,000 people that sits just south of Nebraska. Although primarily an agricultural center, it draws crowds throughout the summer to the High Banks Racetrack. "It was once touted as the world's fastest half-mile dirt racetrack," Goertzen said.

Dr. Cayle Goertzen

Goertzen, 40, took a somewhat untraditional route to medical school. A native of Johnson in southwestern Kansas, Goertzen graduated from Tabor College in Hillsboro with a degree in biology. He got another degree in medical technology from KU's School of Allied Health and worked as a medical technician in a hospital lab for three years, before deciding to go to medical school.

"It's known that the medical education you get is hands-on," he said of his decision to attend the KU–Wichita campus.

Goertzen is one of four physicians and three nurse practitioners or physician's assistants in Republic County. That puts the county just above the level of an underserved area, according to government criteria. But Goertzen said the larger region served by the hospital - including Thayer County in Nebraska and Jewel, Cloud and Washington counties in Kansas - would qualify as underserved if the same criteria were used.

Goertzen usually sees patients in the 26-bed hospital in the morning, then walks across the parking lot to his office in the Medical Arts Building, where he finishes paperwork, orders medication refills, and sees patients the rest of the day. He staffs the ER one night a week and one weekend a month, and performs minor surgeries such as tonsillectomies, colonoscopies, and appendectomies four or five times a week.

Goertzen said he once had to wait for a surgeon to travel to Hillsboro to remove his own appendix.

"Historically, a family doctor doing a minor surgical procedure has been discontinued in many small communities," he said. "In this town, it's been important to hold onto that tradition."

He and his wife, Nikki, who works as an occupational therapist in Concordia, have two daughters - Anneliese, 11, and Rosalie, 8. He enjoys deer hunting and golf and the occasional outing to High Banks Racetrack.

"Growing up in a small town, I always knew I wanted to go back to a small town," he says. As for practicing medicine in one? "Actually it's more than I could have hoped for."

KU School of Medicine-Wichita
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