Why This Retired DPM Would Do It All Again

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By Leonard Simmons, DPM

I may have retired from office practice, but I have not retired from the practice or profession of podiatry. Why did I leave office practice? Frankly, I got sick and tired of dealing with insurance companies, HMOs and managed care groups. I got tired of spending 15 minutes with a patient and 15 minutes with a chart. I got tired of time constraints, which denied me the pleasure of practicing the art of our profession.
Looking back, I can tell you in total honesty that 40-plus years of practice seemed to go by about as quickly as a teenager can spend $20. There are so many differences between what practice used to be and what practice is today. In my experience, professional camaraderie has gone the way of congressional bipartisanship.
Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, we were young and highly ambitious. I think it was fear that brought us all together and kept us together. We were afraid we would never get hospital privileges or be included in insurance plans. We were afraid our medical brethren would never accept us. So we stuck together like glue. We helped each other. We progressed and we accomplished together. We paved the road for those who followed us into practice. I remember being one of two podiatrists granted surgical privileges at a local hospital. Now that hospital has a medical surgical podiatry staff and a large number of podiatrists with full surgical privileges.
Right now, podiatry students are worried about making a living and whether they chose the right profession. Let me tell you, I envy you. You are in a no-lose situation. A severe shortage of specialty-trained physicians will hit quite hard about 2006 and soon the graying of America and its Baby Boomers will become very apparent. Put this together with the fact that podiatrists today are well-educated and have access to fine residency training programs and it adds up to what I feel is an enviable position.
Believe it or not, my podiatric colleagues in school also worried about how they were going to do financially, how they were going to educate their children and a myriad of other things. As far as I know, all my classmates have done well. Most of them are retired and living comfortably. My two children have four degrees.
To the best of my recollection, my years in practice were basically very happy. I had a high-volume, primary care practice. I did some surgery but not a whole lot. I treated patients who became friends. I treated the children and grandchildren of my friends. I spent a lot of time listening to senior citizens, in effect providing inexpensive psychiatry, practicing what I call art from the heart. Although our students are wonderfully and thoroughly trained in the science of podiatric medicine, I worry time constraints may deny them the opportunity to learn and practice the art of medicine as all doctors should.
While I no longer have an office pratice, I am not yet ready to ride off into the sunset singing “Happy Trails.” I sit on state and national boards, attend leadership conferences and represent my state in the House of Delegates. It’s wonderful to reach a stage in life where you can give your time and energy freely to help a profession that has given you the opportunity to help people and has rewarded you with financial security and a comfortable retirement. When I think of the truly remarkable people I have had the fortune to meet and deal with, I consider myself a most lucky fella.
I sometimes wonder why our APMA leadership has never taken advantage of the rather large pool of clinically retired but still active older DPMs who would quite willingly help further our wonderful profession. Many senior podiatrists have experience money can’t buy, experience only long, active years of practice can bring. I’m sure these DPMs would be happy to mentor young foot doctors, serve on advisory committees and panels, as well as share their knowledge and experience to help our profession. APMA, I hope you’re listening.
In closing, I guess I could ask myself, “Hey doc, if you had to do it all over again, would you?” The answer is, “I would as quickly as a teenager could spend $1.”

Dr. Simmons is retired and lives in Fairmont, WV. He serves on the Federation of Podiatric Medical Board.

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