Member of the Month: Edwin R. Franks, M.D.
TAFP Life Member recalls the golden years of family medicine
Edwin R. Franks, M.D., now retired, practiced family medicine for 51 years in the small rural town of Iraan, Texas – pronounced “Ira-Ann,” a mash-up of the names of a cattle rancher and his wife. Over his career, he delivered 3,000 babies, spanning generations, and saw the full spectrum of family medicine, “from soup to nuts,” as he said when he sat down with TAFP at the C. Frank Webber Lectureship in March 2012.
Though Dr. Franks wanted to be a physician from the age of 9, he didn’t immediately go to medical school after college. While studying biology and education at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, he was drafted into Korean conflict to serve in the Army Medical Service Corps. He was granted two six-month deferments to finish his bachelor’s, and after basic training spent two years as an instructor at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville, Pa., teaching operating room technicians and medical technicians.
After his military service, he returned to Midwestern as a graduate student in the Department of Life Sciences and decided to apply to medical school. Not accepted the first year, he applied again and was accepted. He attended the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston where he was awarded his medical degree in 1959. He completed a general rotating internship at Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi in 1960.
When Dr. Franks joined TAFP in 1964, the Academy was still called the Texas Academy of General Practice. He was one of the 12 founding members of the TAFP Foundation Board of Trustees and served as TAFP president in 1977.
Why did you choose family medicine? I had always wanted to be a family physician in a small west Texas town. I liked all aspects of medicine. I was always going to specialize in whatever service I was on, so I just ended up being a family physician so I could do all of the parts of medicine. I wanted to be a family doctor, be my own boss, and take care of people. It’s been a great thing. I practiced medicine during the golden years; I love it.
You grew up in Brownfield, another small west Texas town; how did you find your way to Iraan? After I finished my rotating internship, I went to my hometown and worked as a medical doctor for the Bracero Program out of Mexico taking care of the nationals who worked in the cotton fields in the plains. At the same time I looked all over West Texas and eastern New Mexico for a place I wanted to practice. One day my nurse came in and said, “Dr. Franks, there’s four men out here in the waiting room wanting to speak to you.” I thought, “Oh my Lord, have I killed somebody? Is my drug license up?” They were some men from Iraan and they had heard from one of my doctor friends from Uvalde that I was looking for a place to practice. They didn’t have a doctor in Iraan; theirs had been gone a whole year. My wife Christine and I spent a weekend up there visiting with the people and I decided that’s where we wanted to stay.
What was it like in the early days? I built my clinic, and my wife and I built our home. We had had 19 beds in the hospital and I told them one doctor cannot keep a 19-bed hospital in the black financially. But your community will subsidize the amount of money it takes to get the kind of medical care your community needs. I never asked for anything at the hospital that they didn’t give me, whether it was a new ultrasound for my OB, a new gallbladder instrument to do surgery. And I did surgery, pediatrics, I did it all and I was on call 24/7.
So you were the leader of the whole medical community? Well, I had to be because the closest town of any size is Fort Stockton, 60 miles. The closest tertiary hospital was Midland, 65 miles, and San Angelo, 110. But I had good rapport with the specialists in all three towns. When I called them, they knew I needed them. I wasn’t a “dumper” and I still am very well associated with all the old doctors, who are mostly retired now.
Were you involved in other ways? I was. As a family physician, you go into the community and you become part of it. I helped my wife organize the Chamber of Commerce, and I was on the school board 18 years. I’m still on the church board at the Methodist church. My wife was the first female ever put on the school board in Iraan.
You were one of the founders of the TAFP Foundation. How did it begin and why? Years ago, there was a group of about a dozen doctors that got together and put in $1,000—that’s when $1,000 was money—and formed the TAFP Foundation. I think there’s only three of us left now: Dr. [Seth] Cowan, Dr. [Warren] Longmire, and me. It was to get more family physicians, to encourage them. Jack Haley was one of the founders and he was head of the preceptorship program for years. It’s so important that we catch these young people in their junior or senior year to be people doctors. We want people doctors.
Since you retired, who cares for your patients? I sold my clinic and I’m trying to clean out 50 years of junk. Now we have a new hospital in Iraan, gorgeous, but they have three doctors who rotate. They live in Midland or Odessa—someplace else—and they rotate so many days on, so many days off. And they don’t do OB, they don’t do surgery.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in family medicine? Well, they need to get an overall good general education, get into a good medical school, and take every chance they have to take different courses, different disciplines of medicine, and learn to like every one of them. The main thing is they need to want to take care of people and listen to your patients. If you listen to your patients, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them.
And keep up. The majority of the medicines I use now weren’t even on the market when I started practicing. These meetings like [the C. Frank Webber Lectureship] are where you learn. That’s why we have continuing medical education. You have to keep up. If you don’t, your patients get ahead of you with TV, the Internet. They could come up and say, “tell me about this.” I had a patient diagnose himself and he was scared to death. I had to talk a long time to calm him down.
What makes a good physician? The first thing you need to do is diagnose the problem. The second thing is to diagnose the problem. And the third thing is to diagnose the problem. You can read a book to find out how it’s treated, but you have to know your patient, listen to them, make a diagnosis, and then do what’s best for ’em.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month, nominate the physician by sending his or her name, phone number, and e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org. View past Members of the Month here.