Monday, February 15, 2010

Former DeSmet physician has made an impact in community

If there is a question about the medical profession, it is almost a guarantee that Dr. Bob Bell can answer it because he has most likely experienced it at one time or another during his more than 40 years in family practice.
Janice Schardin, who is the CEO/Administrator at Avera DeSmet Memorial Hospital, was not fortunate to be working in her role during the more than 45 years Dr. Bell was practicing, but has heard about his legacy.
“Words will not do justice to describe the positive impact Dr. Bell had on the healthcare in this area,” she said. “His dedication to his medical profession was expressed in selfless sacrifice while providing quality care from infants through geriatrics. There was a period of about two years where he was the only physician in this area and was providing care 24/7.”
Bell, now 83, started his first practice in the fall of 1957 in DeSmet, S. D. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, he spent a year of internship in the United State Navy at Oakland Naval Hospital and then a year of family practice residency in Yankton, before settling in DeSmet.
It was in Yankton where Bell said he made arrangements with Dr. William Hanson to open a practice in the Kingsbury County community. Bell arrived in 1957 and Hanson joined him the next year.
There was only one doctor in the community at the time. Bell did minor surgery and obstetrics in that first year and after Hanson joined him, the two did major surgery and more obstetrics.
“We were very busy. It was very well received,” Bell said. “In fact we were doing so much work, after two years, we had to enlarge the facility. We raised money and built a new hospital.”
That new hospital was dedicated in 1961.
Hanson left after 10 years and Bell continued alone for three years, before Dr. Louis Karlen came into town to assist Bell. Karlen recently retired. Both had separate practices and assisted in each other in surgeries and covered each other on weekend calls and vacations.
Bell was born in Huron and it was there he first started thinking about becoming a doctor, partly because of his family physician. “In Huron I had a family physician I liked and was a good influence on me,” Bell said.
He graduated from Huron High School and then Huron College. Then he went on to the University of South Dakota Medical School, which at that time had only a two-year program. He finished his medical degree at the University of Nebraska before heading to Oakland Naval Reserve and starting his practice in DeSmet. In 1986, Dr. Bell was named the South Dakota Family Doctor of the Year by the American Academy of Family Practice.
During his medical tenure, Bell has seen a medical field that has changed.
“It has progressed and improved consistently year after year,” he said. “The utilization of the hospital is primarily for short term medical problems and outpatient testing and rehabilitation. They are doing no surgery and no obstetrics now.”
The change has occurred in DeSmet because Bell said it is just a natural tendency of the surgical and obstetric fields to be covered by specialists.
Then there are technological advances like the availability of ultra sounds, Cat scans and MRIs. “It has been good for the healthcare field and patients,” he said. “When those things can be performed locally they don’t have to travel 100 miles to have it done.”
Possibly the biggest accomplishment for Bell was that he and his partner, Hanson, were able to build up a large enough practice that showed the community it needed a hospital. In addition, the two had a hand in sending at least 12 DeSmet graduates into the medical field, including four from the Bell family.
After being retired for 10 years, Bell said he misses the personnel involvement with the patients and the fact that they trusted his decision on treatment and therapy.
What was also satisfying for Bell was that each year medical students took part in training in DeSmet. “Most requested to come here,” he said. “I try to instill in them a scientific part of medicine, but also a compassionate part of understanding things from a patient’s viewpoint.”
Then there was the personal satisfaction of his patients’ trusting him. “I felt I set a good example for other people that might want to go into the field,” he said. “Those were very satisfying things.”
Schardin said his legacy continues to this day as we strive to hold the quality of care standards high. “They just do not make doctors anymore like Dr. Bell.”

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