When the three staff physicians at Pike County Memorial Hospital suddenly quit in December 2006, the 15-staffed-bed facility in Murfreesboro, AR--the tiny town's second-largest employer--faced closure. Instead, 81-year-old Hiram T. Ward, MD, a general practitioner, came out of retirement for a second time and worked 24/7 to keep the hospital doors open and provide care for the community he has served since 1953. For his efforts, Ward was named the 2007 Country Doctor of the Year by Staff Care, a physician-staffing company based in Irving, TX.
On doctors then and now. The main thing was we treated the individual people as a person. The doctors now are disease doctors--they treat diseases that a person happens to have. It makes a lot of difference. The medical field as it is now is probably something I would not go into because of the way it is set up; that's the reason I retired in the first place. I didn't want to do all that paperwork or deal with Medicare. Of course, I don't do that now. The hospital does all the paperwork, and I just treat the patients.
On the future of rural healthcare. This is a community of old people. There isn't much money here, and a younger physician can make more money somewhere else. In my view, this is where medicine is headed--doctors are going into practice to make money, not to treat people. I don't think there are going to be any little hospitals left. This is simply the way it's going to be. This all started with Medicare. When the government takes over it's going to make everything big and takes it away from the individual.
On qualities good physicians must have. He has to be knowledgeable in medicine. Then he has to be compassionate. He has to look at things from the viewpoint of the patient and see what the patient actually needs to make him healthy again. Sometimes it's emotional. Sometimes it's economic. Sometimes it's medical. But you cannot separate them.
On the physician shortage. What we need is more family practitioners--they are the only ones who might be able to make medicine like it used to be. They treat the patient, instead of the disease. And they treat the whole family. A lot of times a disease is related among family members.
On retirement. I already retired twice. Our hospital would have closed if I didn't go back to work. It's not an inconvenience. It's what I've wanted to do all my life, and I really enjoy it. This keeps you young. It keeps you thinking better, and it keeps you doing better. It's a pretty good tradeoff.