February 27, 2015
By Joe Stumpe
|Drs. Stacey Dimitt and Hannah Haack are family physicians in Smith Center, Kansas|
Hospitals across Kansas got an interesting proposal last year from two doctors about to finish up their residency in KU School of Medicine-Wichita's family residency program:
Would the hospitals consider accepting two new family doctors as a package deal?
"It was actually our husbands who threw out the package idea," Dr. Hannah Haack said. "And we thought it was a fabulous plan," added Dr. Stacey Dimitt.
Of the 60 hospitals they contacted, half expressed an interest. The pair did telephone interviews with those, narrowing the list to five finalists. Then they interviewed in-person, with husbands and children in tow. Back in Wichita, the doctors and their husbands sat down at Dimitt's kitchen table.
"We voted, and it came down to here," Haack said.
"Here" is Smith Center, Kansas, a town of 1,665 and the seat of Smith County, on the Nebraska state line. Kearney and Hastings, Nebraska, are the nearest cities. Haack and Dimitt work in the Smith County Family Practice and Smith County Memorial Hospital, which share a building.
Fast friendship led to partners in practice
They got to know each other while completing medical school and residency in Wichita. Both came from small-town backgrounds, both wanted to deliver babies and have full-spectrum family practices, both were married with young children.
How does a friendship become strong enough to want to relocate and practice together? Haack said, "I guess just because we're alike in what we want to do."
As new doctors in a small town, both initially wondered if they'd have enough patients to keep busy; that worry lasted about a month. "These two docs were swamped," Haack said of Drs. Ferrill Conant and Justin Overmiller, their colleagues in Smith Center. Haack and Dimitt said they often consult Conant and Overmiller (also both KU School of Medicine graduates) on the logistics of providing care in a small town.
"It's very different managing critical care in a rural setting," said Haack.
The variety of cases they see ranges from the routine to the challenging. The clinic and hospital serve a four-county area. On Dimitt's first shift in the hospital's emergency room, a patient came in with a rare epidural abscess. She got him stabilized and shipped to Kearney.
"Getting it diagnosed quickly is important," she said. They regularly consult specialists they worked with during residency in Wichita and those from Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney.
"We have the 'red phone' in the ER. It puts us directly in contact (with Kearney)," Haack said. "We call it our lifeline." "You learn to trust your judgment," Haack said. "But there's not a day that goes by that I don't talk to Stacey. It's good to have someone you can consult with."
The two doctors each work four days a week, with on-call duties one night a week and one weekend a month. On Wednesdays, they take turns performing colonoscopies. That keeps patients from having to travel overnight.
"For them to be able to go home and recover is a nice change," Haack said.
Elderly patients are a mainstay of the practice. The area has one of the state's highest percentages of elderly residents.
Neither doctor has yet delivered a baby in Smith Center, but that time is coming. Dimitt has a patient due in March, Haack in April. Both think some women appreciate the option of seeing a female physician. "I love OB," Dimitt said.
In January, Haack and Dimitt opened a once-a-week wound care clinic in the hospital, an area of care they became interested in during residency. They treat wounds that can be slow to heal because of diabetes, arterial disease, surgery and other causes.
"The clinic is dedicated to helping those wounds heal," Haack said.
In November, Smith County voters approved a one-cent sales tax increase for operations of the hospital, which has 26 beds. A new facility is needed. "It's good, it's functional, but we're running out of room," Haack said.
To get the ball rolling, physicians and other hospital employees pledged about $200,000 over the next five years.
Both doctors say Smith Center is just the kind of small town where they want to raise their kids. Haack and her husband have two children, the Dimitts have one.
"This is a booming metropolis," joked Dimitt, who grew up in the even smaller Bazine, Kansas. "I miss things like the restaurants, the shopping. But we still enjoy being out here."
"We wanted to come somewhere we can stay," added Haack. And by that, she means Dimitt and her family, too. Back in Wichita, the couples often got together for card games. "We brought our card players with us," she said.
Dimitt summed up one benefit of the families' joint relocation, "I've kind of brought along my own little security blanket."KU School of Medicine-Wichita