Retired doctors miss patients, but stay involved with people, caring

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Published: September 13,2004

When retirement comes for healthcare professionals, especially physicians, is it any different for them emotionally than it is for anyone else? The years of caring for others and the bond with patients are not as easily tucked away as a stethoscope and a prescription pad. Some say they are meeting the challenges of retirement by staying busy and involved with people.

Dr. John Kitchens, 75, of Jackson retired from private practice in 2000 after 42 years as an obstetrician-gynecologist and delivering 7,000 babies.

“I was pretty worn out from the stress and hours of that many years,” he said. “I disliked the enormous amounts of paperwork, always looking over my shoulder and keeping up with government regulations. It was stressful.”

He grew up in Clinton where his dad was professor of languages at Mississippi College. He graduated from the University of Mississippi Medical School, served in the Korean War with the Air Force and for a short time had a family practice in Collins before returning to UMC for a residency in ob-gyn.

In all those years of ob-gyn practice, Kitchens had only two lawsuits against him and won both in court. He points out that the average in that specialty is for many more suits.
He thought he wanted to prop up his feet and do nothing but that lasted only one month. His wife of 30 years, Melinda, told him she married him for better or worse but not for lunch.

Dr. Kitchens agreed. “I missed the patient contact. They became friends after that many years and I was reluctant to give up caring for people because that’s what we do,” he said. “I’d go nuts if I sat and did nothing.”

With his years of experience, Kitchens was a natural to teach at University of Mississippi Medical Center. He started teaching part time and that soon grew to four-and-a-half days. He is now medical director of ob-gyn clinics at Jackson Medical Mall where he teaches third- and fourth-year students, some of whom he brought into the world.

Kitchens said he often sees people who tell him they were patients or were delivered by him. He likes to fish and does indulge in that hobby a little more these days.

Missing that bond with patients

Catching up with retired family practitioner Dayton White can be difficult. The busy mayor of Lucedale — population 2,485 — relishes promoting his town and its people.

“I loved medicine and it’s still a part of my life,” he says. “What bothers me the most about retiring from it is carrying so much knowledge home that will never be used again.”

White, 69, said he had a real bond with his patients and that he misses the relationships. “Doctors don’t have that kind of relationship today because they’re so protected,” he said. “I saw patients in the office, at the emergency room and made house calls. I took care of the whole family.”

He recalls the days when office visits cost $2 or $3 and babies were delivered for $50. Dr. White delivered 4,000 babies and had only one minor lawsuit. Board certified, he was named Family Practitioner of the Year in 1999 by the Mississippi Academy of Family Practitioners.

White said he didn’t get tired of practicing family medicine even after 38-1/2 years. He was still seeing a lot of patients. “I had a wonderful career and feeling toward medicine but I wanted to quit at the height,” he said. “A lot of good doctors practice beyond their prime.”

He also didn’t like the government involvement and the feeling that what was put on a patient’s chart was more important than the way the patient was treated. He feels it’s not possible now to practice medicine the way he did it.

“I’d be out of step with practitioners today,” he said. “It’s a different world.”

He believes doctors are better trained now and have diagnostic ability through computerized technology that was unknown a few years ago. However, technology takes away the personal touch and doctors don’t get to know their patients.

“We used to have to use our eyes, ears and listen to the patient to diagnose the problem,” he said. “The patient had to almost tell you what was wrong with him.”

White, who is a native of Lucedale, was in the first class to complete all their medical training at the University of Mississippi Medical School. He and his wife of 42 years, Suzanne, have four children.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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