More than 40 years ago a young doctor was looking for a hospital to affiliate with that would allow him to, start a practice, raise a family, get involved in his community and enjoy life.
Dr. Pat Burke found that in Clarksdale.
Burke, an internal medicine specialist, was partner in a local practice for more than 40 years in Clarksdale and felt none of it would have been possible without having a hospital in the community.
Road to Clarksdale
Burke, originally from Ruleville, saw a notice in the Medical School Journal looking for a doctor who practiced medicine in 1973. He joined the practice in Clarksdale with Dr. Robert Ray McGee, who was the head of the clinic and the late Dr. Walter T. Taylor.
He stayed for more than 40 years and was the last of the three doctors in his practice to retire when he closed his practice in 2014.
McGee, Taylor and Burke’s practice was on Evelyn Street just one minute away from Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center on Hospital Drive.
“I don’t think I could have had a medical practice without the hospital being here in Clarksdale, not being an internal medicine I specialist,” Burke said. “I had to have tests available and X-ray equipment available and other technical equipment to really take good care of my patients because I didn’t have all of that on my office.”
Burke said his office had an EKG machine, a treadmill test, a chest X-ray machine and was able to do minor lab work, but he had to send patients to the hospital for things such as scans, echo cardiograms, specialized X-rays and chronic arterial studies.
Burke is a 1958 Ruleville High School graduate. He earned a degree in biology from Southwestern University, now, Rhodes College in Memphis, in 1962. He was an outfielder on the baseball team and cornerback and fullback on the football team. He took a few courses in medicine at Millsaps College in Jackson and graduated from University of Mississippi Medical School with a medical doctor degree in 1967. He went into the United States Air Force for his internship and worked at one of the top Air Force hospitals, Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He led a modular clinic in San Antonio for two years before coming back to the Delta.
Desire to be a doctor
While Burke’s journey took him to different parts of Mississippi and Texas, the wheels were in motion for him to be a doctor in his own backyard as a little boy thanks to his family physician Dr. Daken “Fitz” Fitzgerald.
“He came to practice medicine in Ruleville where I grew up and then he moved his office to Cleveland several years later,” Burke said. “He was our family doctor. He would come to our house, take care of us anytime we needed something – upset stomach, cough, cold, earache, whatever – and he would always give me a shot or whatever. I just asked mom to call Dr. Fitzgerald and say, ‘Look, I know you could make me feel better so come out and give me a shot.’”
Fitzgerald and his wife, Bonnie, were friends with Burke’s parents, Dennis “Dee” and Dudley. The families spent so much time together to the point where Burke called Fitzgerald, “Uncle Fitz.”
Fitzgerald lived to see Burke follow in his footsteps and become a doctor.
Burke has seen many changes throughout his 40 years practicing as a doctor. Some of those changes impacted the local hospital.
He said one problem was the government and insurance companies began to mandate what tests doctors could run and that influenced what medicine a patient got.
“I just felt that it was not my way of taking care of patients,” Burke said.
In 2014, Burke said the government said doctors were going to be required to start practicing with computers.
Burke said that was not the only reason, but it was the last straw and decided to retire.
Burke said, for Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center to continue to be successful, more internal medicine doctors and general surgeons are needed as they serve a variety of needs.
Today, he said many doctors are subspecialists. He said subspecialists are important, but internal medicine doctors and general surgeons are more needed.
“I think the hospital is on the right track now because they are trying to cut down on expenses,” Burke said. “That’s one of the biggest things that I think has been a great big problem. They’re cutting back considerably on how much it costs to run this hospital.”
A place called home
Burke’s community involvement has gone way beyond his medical practice. He and his wife, Meg, have four children. Melanie lives in Atlanta, Ga., with her five children and her husband is an executive at AT&T, Sharkey is an attorney in Jackson and his four children, and Genie lives in Renaldo with her four children and her husband is a pastor.
Burke is a member of the Rotary Club, coached his kids in Youth Incorporated baseball and softball when they were younger, and is a deacon at Riverside Baptist Church. He teaches Sunday School with a class of adult men at his church and holds a community Bible study Monday nights.
After all these years, the Delta still holds a special place in his heart.
“I grew up in the Delta. I’m a Delta boy,” Burke said. “I think that it’s a very friendly community. It’s a place where people enjoy one another. We just have a very good town to live in. I think it’s safe. I think we provide for a lot of community activities.”
And Northwest Regional Medical Center is a quality of life component in Clarksdale.
“I still think it’s a very decent place to live,” Burke said. “I would recommend people coming here.”