Texas physician named "Country Doctor of the Year"

The family physician has dedicated 50 years to caring for the same small town.

By Brian Hedger — Posted Jan. 29, 2009

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David Watson, MD, wasn't like most of his classmates at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in 1958.

He can still remember the look on his faculty adviser's face when he said family practice was his chosen path. The adviser was Michael E. DeBakey, MD, world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon and chair of Baylor's surgery department, which is now named after him.

"When I told him what I was going to do, Dr. DeBakey said, 'Well, Watson, there's nothing I can do to help you.' Dr. DeBakey was a brilliant man, and Baylor encouraged specialization. But my wife and I didn't want to live in a big city. We liked small towns," said Dr. Watson, 78, who was named 2008 Country Doctor of the Year by Staff Care, a physician staffing firm.

He and his wife Bernice -- now married for 57 years -- wound up in Yoakum, Texas, a ranching and farming community of about 6,000, located between Houston and San Antonio. Cotton farming used to be its mainstay. Now, it's best known for leather products.

Top-notch show saddles are made in Yoakum, but perhaps the most famous piece of leather in town belongs to Dr. Watson. It's his brown doctor's bag. A bit weathered and torn on one side, it's the same bag he has used for half a century of family medicine.

"It's been a few strange places," he said, laughing. "We used to do our own surgeries. Hysterectomies, gall bladders, amputations, delivering babies and just covering the emergency room. I covered the ER until I was 65."

He doesn't do it all anymore, but still keeps a full schedule, seeing up to 30 patients a day at his office, local nursing homes, the Bluebonnet Youth Ranch for abused and dependent kids and Yoakum Community Hospital -- where a wing is named in his honor.

A rewarding career

Dr. Watson finds the joys of family medicine outweigh the low payments and other headaches plaguing the specialty and deterring many of today's medical school graduates. He says he plans to keep practicing until he can no longer do the daily crossword puzzle.

"It just depends on what you want out of life," said Dr. Watson. "You don't make much money, but you do gain a lot of friends. I've been very happy with my choice."

Dr. Watson always has known that many of his patients don't make much money either. So, on occasion, he has accepted eggs or meat or poultry, or even an old golf club as payment.

"I've always enjoyed being with people and trying to relate to people. That's what you have to do in primary care."

Along with a plaque, an engraved stethoscope and a monogrammed lab coat, Dr. Watson will receive two weeks off, thanks to a locum tenens provided by Staff Care. The company has awarded the Country Doctor of the Year Award since 1992, recognizing exemplary primary care physicians practicing in rural communities of 20,000 or less.

Dr. Watson fit the description perfectly.

"He takes care of them womb to tomb. That's what my husband likes to say," said Merry Merian, whose husband, Fred Merian, MD, worked alongside Dr. Watson at Yoakum Community Hospital for 21 years before the couple moved to Austin, Texas, in 1992. "He pretty well knows everybody there, and they know him. He's seen families through their best and worst times, and he's always there with a kind touch and a compassionate word."

The Merians know firsthand. Dr. Watson helped Dr. Merian deliver the couple's third child in 1973.

"He's just the epitome of a country doctor," said Dr. Merian, a past president of the Texas Medical Assn. "He sees everybody and takes on everything, and refers out what needs to be done. He was just always around and always willing to come in and help, day or night."

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