David Watson, MD: Country Doctor of the Year

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Trusted Leader - March 2009


Tex Med . 2009;105(3):53-54.

When David Watson, MD, began practicing family medicine in Yoakum in1958, he charged patients $3 for an office visit and $5 for a house call. He accepted pies, the haunch of a deer, a bushel of pecans, or other payment in kind for his services.

A lot has changed since then, but in many ways, Dr. Watson hasn't. He still makes house calls, still accepts payment in kind, and still is the lynchpin of medical care in Yoakum, as he has been for five decades. He marvels at how much medicine has changed, especially the complexities of health insurance, but he's not one to look back at the "good old days" and complain about the ways things are now. "It's better for the patients because we can do more for them," he said.

His work has made him the first Texas physician to receive the Country Doctor of the Year ® Award from Irving-based Staff Care, the largest physician-staffing firm in the United States. The award, presented to exemplary primary care physicians practicing in rural communities of 20,000 or less since 1992, recognizes the spirit, skill and dedication of America's rural medical practitioners.

Staff Care President Tim Boes says Dr. Watson personifies the unique role that country doctors play in providing not only medical care, but also stability and economic viability for the small towns they serve.

"Country doctors like Dr. Watson are the glue that keeps small towns together," Mr. Boes said. "They are vital to patient care, and by keeping local hospitals open they also help ensure the economic viability and sometimes the very survival of their communities. Country doctors are a resource rural America literally cannot afford to do without."

Nominated for the award by his daughters, Dr. Watson is honored to receive it but says he never heard of it until his oldest daughter called to tell him he had won. "I said, 'I'm sorry I don't even know what you're talking about.' Then she explained it to me, and it is a wonderful award."


No Regrets

The son of a Methodist preacher, Dr. Watson arrived in Yoakum, a South Texas town of about 6,000, 90 miles south of Austin, immediately out of medical training. Soon he began the multifarious tasks of a country doctor: family physician, surgeon, obstetrician, and (unofficially) psychiatrist.

With his partner of 50 years, A.E. Mgebroff, MD, (now deceased), Dr. Watson delivered babies, removed fish hooks, diagnosed heart failure, made midnight trips to the emergency room, attended football games with his medical bag, served as medical director of the local nursing home, and was a mainstay in community affairs - all while raising four children with his wife, Bernice.

In his spare time, Dr. Watson also served as attending physician at the Bluebonnet Youth Ranch for abused and dependent children in Yoakum, seeing pediatric patients without charging a fee, and as a director of a local bank.  

The 78-year-old Dr. Watson continues to provide all these services, except obstetrics, seeing 20 to 30 patients a day in his office, rounding on patients in the hospital and the nursing home, and mixing in the occasional house call. Little wonder, notes Mr. Boes, that Yoakum Community Hospital has named a wing in Dr. Watson's honor.

He acknowledges that a rural practice is not for everyone.

"You have to like people. If you want to relate to people and have some friends in a small-town environment, well, that's what you want to do. If you want to make a lot of money, you go the big city."

He's never regretted his decision to set up shop in a small town.

" I did my internship at Hermann Hospital in Houston and they wanted me to stay there for my residency, but I just didn't want to. My wife and I always wanted small towns .  Dr. Michael DeBakey was my faculty advisor at Baylor," Dr. Watson recalled. "I told him I was going to do general practice in a small town and he just shook his head and said, 'Watson, there's nothing I can do for you.'"

As the 2008 Country Doctor of the Year, Dr. Watson will be able to enjoy two weeks off, as Staff Care will provide a temporary physician to fill in for him at no charge, a service valued at approximately $10,000.

He plans to spend part of the time with his children and grandchildren at Horseshoe Bay and attend a bank directors conference in Canada.

He also will receive the award's signature plaque featuring a country doctor making his rounds on a horse and buggy, an engraved stethoscope, and a monogrammed lab coat.



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