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Dr. Mimi Propst, a resident in the Cox Family Medicine Residency program, reviews a patient visit with Dr. Tim Fursa, the program's director. Fursa is one of several local doctors to share his expertise with young doctors entering the field.
Dr. Mimi Propst, a resident in the Cox Family Medicine Residency program, reviews a patient visit with Dr. Tim Fursa, the program's director. Fursa is one of several local doctors to share his expertise with young doctors entering the field.

From the Practice to the Classroom

Posted online
Dr. Tim Fursa is like a lot of doctors, in that his decision to work in medicine was driven by a desire to help people.

Something else that drew him in, he said, is that practicing medicine is intellectually stimulating.

“It’s a fascinating field, as it is both an art and a science,” said Fursa, a family practice physician who in August was named program director of the Cox Family Medicine Residency program. The program, founded in 1987, trains family physicians and is a designated Level 3 patient-centered medical home.

Fursa is among a group of Springfield-area physicians who are taking what they’ve learned through building their practices and sharing it with younger doctors entering the field of medicine.

Shared knowledge
Fursa said when he went to medical school, he already was thinking about becoming a teacher in the field.

“But I thought it would be more in the twilight of my career, something I would do when I was older,” he said.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota Medical School, Fursa completed his family practice residency 1993–96 through the Cox program. He served as an active-duty physician and flight surgeon with the U.S. Air Force and spent eight years in private practice in Iowa before joining the faculty at Cox in 2008 at the request of his mentor, senior faculty member Dr. Larry Halverson.

“It was suggested to me that if teaching was something I enjoyed, I should go into it earlier and develop my skills so I could enjoy it more,” Fursa said.

Teaching immerses him in the intellectual aspects of medicine – which he enjoys – but Fursa said the main attraction to teaching lies in influencing the future of medicine.

“Training the young doctors to be family doctors is a real joy for me,” he said.

Dr. Shachar Tauber, an ophthalmologist who specializes in cornea transplants and refractive surgery, also credits mentors – his were at Washington University in St. Louis and Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans – with his decision to teach.

“A mentor told me, ‘You will never be able to pay me back, but I’m holding you responsible for teaching the next person,’” Tauber said.

Tauber, who taught at the Yale University School of Medicine, now teaches at Jordan Valley Innovation Center, is an adjunct faculty member at Missouri State University and conducts clinical research for Mercy Health System after joining St. John’s 12 years ago.

“I thought integrating how the college works with the hospital was very intriguing,” Tauber said.

Career balance
The key for doctors who want to teach is determining how to balance the demands of hands-on care with class-related work, and for some doctors, it may mean leaving private practice behind.

Fursa, who maintains a clinical practice at Cox North, said his work time is divided into thirds among seeing patients, teaching, and researching and reviewing practice models and medical literature.

While that may sound hectic, Fursa said he’s actually found his diversified schedule to be more balanced.

“There’s the aspect of having a better lifestyle, having more control and flexibility with the hours,” he said. “Part of being a good teacher and doctor is balancing it all with family, social and other community needs.”

Dr. Steven Dodge, who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, left behind a practice performing high-tech fertility treatments to teach. Initially, he said, he toyed with teaching at the high school level, but while investigating opportunities, in 2003, he learned of an opening in the physician assistant studies department at MSU.

Dodge said he decided to get out of private practice after 15 years because his focus had become very narrow.

“I was seeing some of the same problems all of the time, and the fertility business in California was becoming very commercial,” Dodge said. “I didn’t think I could continue to be successful as a private practice.” A graduate of the Southern Illinois School of Medicine, Dodge also completed a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology. He became head of MSU’s department of physician assistant studies in 2004. Because of his own family, he is not interested in returning to a private obstetrics practice, though he was fascinated with the study of the reproductive process during his own medical school days.

“When you’re in solo practice, it tends to wear you down,” he said. “You could be sitting at home reading a book to your 4-year-old and literally have to be at the hospital within minutes.”
That’s not to say, however, that teaching doesn’t come with its own concerns.

“I don’t have to worry about emergencies in the middle of the night, but it can be stressful if there’s a department member ill, or making sure everything goes well with the curriculum,” Dodge said.

Give and take
Though he’s added teaching to his duties, Fursa said the academic aspects of his work still enable him to help a broad range of individuals.

“People involved in research and teaching help develop the skills of young physicians and help keep the level of quality high in the next generation of doctors while advancing medicine,” he said.

Dodge views sharing his knowledge as a natural career progression.

“Helping these predominately youngsters learn effectively and learn thinking and problem-solving skills that they will use in their practice is rewarding,” Dodge said. “I’ve had some role in the education of about 200 of these physician assistant graduates. I would like to think it has expanded the number of people I can help.”

For Tauber, one of the most surprising aspects to teaching is how much he’s learned from the students.

“We have MBA students who have taught us how to reach out to Lasik patients,” he said, noting that those students were able to use their business training to help the doctors see the financial aspects of marketing the elective surgery in tight economic times.

“It all makes it better for the next generation of doctors,” Tauber said.[[In-content Ad]]


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