Inside Doctoring: Stages and Outcomes in the Professional Development of Physicians

By Robert H. Coombs; D. Scott May et al. | Go to book overview

Modern Times: The Business of Being a Doctor

Sankey V. Williams

My father had a lot to say about doctors and money, probably because he struggled with the issue all his life. Starting in a one-room school in eastern Kentucky, he received his M.D. from the University of Louisville in 1936. Throughout his undergraduate years during the Depression, he attended school one semester, and then worked the next so he could continue. I lost count of how many semesters he spent at which college.

His stories about the work were entertaining. As far as I know, it was the only time in his life he was shot at. In one of the state's poorer counties, where nearly everyone qualified for public assistance, he was at one time the clerk responsible for certifying need. One applicant disagreed with my father's assessment and took direct action. Luckily, he was a poor shot. Another job involved floating down the state's rivers identifying marijuana for destruction. It is easy to understand why these job alternatives did not keep him long from his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

One of my father's favorite stories was about his first day as an intern. During a no-nonsense orientation, the sister in charge announced that the salary was $25 a month. Although room and board were provided, this sum was all he would have for personal expenses, which, as it turned out, included courting the pretty nurse who became my mother. He laughed when asked if each month's wages should be paid in cash or placed in a savings bond.

The economies of general practice in a small Kentucky town were clear, inescapable, and difficult. The rewards were not financial. My father loved his practice, and his patients were good to him in return. They treated him as an important and respected friend. Some of the children he delivered were named after him. There were other, more tangible, rewards. I remember the fresh

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