Dr. Wilson responds to a new calling …
Dr. Kenneth Wilson, a 50-year-old family physician who has practiced in Harrison County for 18 years, is doing something most people in his profession would never dream of: he’s changing careers. He’s not doing it precipitously or without considerable thought and preparation.
“I’ve thought about it for 10 years,” he said recently, and he’s been studying for a master’s degree in administrative medicine for two years.
Late last month he gave up his practice with Harrison Family Medicine. He will work temporarily as an emergency department physician at Harrison County Hospital in Corydon. He’s not sure where he’ll wind up because he hasn’t found a new job yet, and, ironically, “it may not exist yet,” he said.
Wilson recently finished degree work at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
He said the program is unique because it has a broad curriculum encompassing not only MBA-level business content but extensive training in health care quality, health care economics, health law, insurance and managed care, medical infomatics and ethics.
Alumni of the Wisconsin program serve in many “boundary spanning” roles in health care organizations throughout North America plus Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Wilson said.
Wilson said he hopes to use his medical school education and training, family practice experience and more recent graduate studies to enable him to “be part of an ongoing effort to bring clinicians, managers, health care workers and purchasers together to solve current and developing problems in the health care system.”
For example, Wilson said, because most patients belong to an employee-based health care insurance program and don’t have to understand the cost of medical care, “We’ve been sidestepping the financial side of health care for 30 years,” Wilson said. “We’re doing this at our peril.”
The health care industry is very complex and has many flaws, including an inefficient and sometimes inappropriate delivery system to patients who are used to getting the best medical care in the world instantly.
“We’re all sheltered from the true cost of health care,” Wilson said.
However, there are no simple answers to the many problems in health care, but Wilson said he would like to be involved in an administrative or consulting capacity, working on finding solutions for those problems.
Wilson came here in August of 1984 and set up a family practice in a double-wide trailer in Palmyra. He expanded his practice to Corydon in 1989 and remained in solo practice until 1993. That year, he joined Drs. George Estill and Candace Embry, a husband and wife team, to form Harrison Family Medicine. Wilson’s last day was June 28. His successor is Dr. Perry T. Dobyns (see story on front page).
Although Wilson said he loves his work and still appreciates the significant role he could play in the health and welfare of his patients and their families, he was beginning to see the potential for burn-out in about five years. The work of the conscientious family physician is time-consuming and stressful, potentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said he didn’t want to get to the place where he felt burned out and resented his work.
Wilson said he has always been interested in the business side of health care and how it’s integrated with taking care of patients. He was also intrigued with the notion of “boundary spanning” or bringing two or three or more areas of expertise to bear on health care problems.
He said most people have only a vague understanding of the behind-the-scenes mechanics of health care delivery or the costs and liabilities of employee-based health care. Wilson was referring to the emergency technicians, nurses, doctors, business people, hospital managers, insurance companies, HMOs — all the distinct groups that must somehow work together. Although each group has “a different viewpoint and world view,” Wilson said, those differences must be bridged to provide each patient with what they need and when they need it, in the best and most efficient way possible.
“That is an interesting challenge,” he said, and it’s likely to be part of his new vocation.
Wilson’s class at the University of Wisconsin consisted of 24 master’s degree students. They came from all over the country. Amazingly, all are doctors, and some are already hospital managers. One is a vice president of Tufts Health Plan in New England. Another is a Native American obstetrician-gynecologist from Anchorage, Alaska. One of his classmates, a psychiatrist in Taiwan, had the longest “commute,” interrupted by an occasional typhoon, Wilson said.
They spent the first and last week of each semester on campus for intensive, all-day sessions (what they called “Blitzkrieg College”), but the rest of the semester they studied at home and met every Tuesday night via teleconferences for PowerPoint presentations, lectures and discussions.
“It was tough,” Wilson said, “I didn’t do anything but this and practice medicine for two years. But I enjoyed it.” He said it was an excellent education. “Now I have a much better understanding of why and how things happen. I know what the finance people are talking about now and what tools they use to analyze the economic and business issues which face health care organizations.”
Wilson and his wife, Pam Davis, a licensed clinical social worker in Corydon, plan to stay here, and Wilson hopes to eventually land a job in the metro Louisville area.
They have two children, Damon Herbert, 30, a new father (of Curtis Carl, 16 months) in Jeffersonville, and Caleb Wilson, 22, a senior graphic design arts and art history student at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. Caleb helped with the artwork in the new R.A.P.E. Treatment Center in Milltown.
Damon, who does lighting for Shakespeare in the Park in Louisville, recently started a family-oriented Christian Theatre in Louisville called Lighthouse Theatre (www.lighthouse-theatre.org). The first production will be Neil Simon’s “God’s Favorite” in September.
Damon’s wife, Debbie, is a medical records consultant.