Longest practicing doctor at St. Charles Prineville retires
The longest-practicing physician at St. Charles, Prineville, retired on Sept. 30.
Bruce Williams, M.D., practiced family medicine in Prineville for 37 years. He began his medical career in Prineville in 1984 at Prineville Medical Clinic as a family practitioner. He is the only practicing doctor in Prineville who came from Prineville Medical Clinic, who had not already retired, up until his own retirement last week.
Reflecting on his career, Williams commented, "I have enjoyed my practice here and obviously enjoyed living here, and I have been here since 1954."
Williams has always lived in Prineville, except for his college education, Oregon State University, medical school at Oregon Health and Sciences University, and his residency in Wichita, Kansas, and a year teaching at a residency program there. Initially, he aspired to become a marine biologist when he graduated from high school. Upon entering college for his marine biology degree, Williams had to take a lot of basic science classes and found himself taking a lot of pre-med classes at the same time. The second year of college was the deciding year that Williams chose to switch to medicine.
"It just became more interesting, and I decided to go into medicine," he noted of the pre-med science classes.
Williams emphasized that the road to becoming a family practice doctor isn't one that is taken lightly. It requires four years of college, four years of med school, and three years of residency (which has now increased to four years).
"It's a long commitment."
Dr. Denny Thomas' son and Williams were good friends in high school, so he knew the doctor well. After graduation, he had an opportunity to come back and practice in Prineville. Initially, he planned to continue teaching at his residency program in Kansas.
"I was in Kansas teaching, and they lost a couple of doctors here, and Dr. Thomas called me up and asked me if I was interested in coming back," noted Williams of the call that changed his career. "So, I came out for an interview and took the job and have been here ever since."
When he first began his new career in Prineville, it involved a tremendous workload. There were three doctors in the Prineville Medical Clinic—including Dr. Thomas Matheson, and two other doctors in town.
"We did ER, we did OB, and we did the in-patients as well as our practice. It was a tremendous amount of hours and a lot of calls. Dr. Matheson and I were on on-call every other night for our clinic for years," stressed Williams of the workload.
Williams also put a lot of emphasis on the importance of family—especially his wife, Sue. The couple has been married for more than 40 years.
"The support from (wife) Sue has been critical all these years. If you think about all the hours I was working, that left her a lot of hours with four kids on her own," emphasized Williams.
Williams had OB patients for 11 years. Some of his fun and happiest times of his practice were spent in OB. He also valued the memories of saving people from harm and saving lives.
"You build a strong bond with a lot of your patients," he said of some of the most rewarding parts of his practice over the years. "Those that you don't bond with tend to move away over time and to another doctor. I have got patients whom I have had for more than 30 years. You tend to get to know them very well and know a lot about their health but also knowing them as people."
Over his 37 years of medical practice, there have been a lot of changes. When he first started practicing, including the prior generation of doctors before him—Williams indicated that doctors directed all the care and made all the medical decisions. Everyone below them worked for them to support them.
"Over time, medicine has become more of a team concept where you work with the social worker, the psychologist, the pharmacist, the nurses and everybody together to provide the best care. That has been a major shift in how medicine is provided, between the time I started and now. I think it's been a good shift," he pointed out.
He added that some elderly patients who have seen the same doctor for many years are not as enthusiastic about this shift.
"Now we talk a lot about shared decision-making, where you go over the options with the patient more and come to an understanding together. In the 1980s and before, the doctor made the decision and people just went with what he/she said without questioning a lot of times."
Throughout his career, Williams mentored medical students and physician assistant students, as well as being over the PAs and nurse practitioners in the clinic. Three of his four sons have also chosen the medical field in their career choices.
Williams' son Justin is a practicing OB/GYN. His son Nick is a physician assistant in endocrinology. His late son Sean had a psychology degree. Son, Byron, has gone into business and works for the State Treasury Department.
Williams has been involved in many activities and organizations throughout the years that were connected to his family in some way. Being a strong family man, he was a Boy Scout leader from 1995 until 2006. He coached AYSO Soccer from 1991 until 2003 and JV soccer for the high school in 1996.
The Williams family was also involved with exchange programs for more than 20 years. They had one full-year exchange student and one half-year student between 1994 and 1996, and they had summer exchange students through 4-H every year from 1995 until 2004. Williams also served on the Crook County School Board from 1986 to 1994.
Another interest Williams enjoyed was drama and acting.
"I took over as drama director after Lexie Tombleson in 2003 and directed seven plays and did the acting portion of directing for two musicals," said Williams. "I directed my last play for the high school in 2006.Â Of those I directed, my favorite plays were 'Taming of the Shrew,' 'Macbeth,' 'Harold,' and 'Maude and Noises Off,' which was the most fun of all to direct."
Currently, Williams has two big hobbies—hiking and mountain biking, as well as buying an RV to do some traveling. He and wife, Sue, currently have 10 grandkids, who live in Oregon and Washington state. He is looking forward to having more time with family.
When asked what his biggest motivation was for retiring, he responded, "More time to do things, and I think the events of the last two years have really taken a lot of the enjoyment out of practicing."
He added that it has been difficult not only for medicine, but for many careers.
"It's the frustration where a medical problem became a political problem, and people made their medical decisions based on their political views—which is totally the wrong thing to do," he concluded. "You should be looking at the data and the facts and not going by the political divisions."
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