As a child, Kurtis Eaton enjoyed visiting his family physician.
“Dr. Smith was an older gentleman, a very grandfatherly figure,” he said in his office at St. Vincent’s Family Care in Moody. “When I was four or five years old, I used to love going to his office. He seemed like the smartest man in the world. Whatever the problem was, he always had the answer and made us feel better about it. And I always got to leave with a lollipop. I always thought it would be neat to be like that and be able to do that for folks.”
After a detour or two, Eaton is now a physician himself and hopes to inspire in his patients here the feelings Dr. Smith gave him years ago. A personable man who’s paternally proud of his 15-year-old daughter Taylor (“She attends Trussville High School and wants to be a marine biologist.”), Eaton readily spoke about the clinic, how he came to medicine and his view of health care.
About the center: Located at 2050A Village Drive, off Moody Parkway, St. Vincent’s Family Care is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Eaton is the center’s full-time physician, joined by Dr. Ronald Bouseman on a part-time basis.
Are appointments necessary?: “We prefer appointments, but you can’t plan when you’re going to get sick or twist your ankle, so as long as we’re open, come in, and we’ll be happy to take care of you.” Eaton, Bouseman and other St. Vincent’s physicians remain on call after clinic hours. “Regardless of the hour, you’ll always be able to talk to a doctor who can help you.”
The purpose of the family care center: “People lead busy lives. With work, family, and children, there’s so much to do that it can be difficult when someone is sick to bundle everybody up, drive to Birmingham, and wait in a clinic to be seen by a doctor you may or may not know. We want people in this community to know that they now have accessible, quality medical care right around the corner.”
As part of the community: “St. Vincent’s may own the clinic, but it’s Dr. Eaton who’s here seeing patients. I want to meet and get to know the people in the community and be here for them when they need me. Having said that, what really excites me about this opportunity is that the people in this community will have a board-certified family practice physician here with all the new state-of-the-art technology and resources of St. Vincent’s on call if and when we need them.”
The road to Moody: Eaton describes himself as “a non-traditional medical student.” After high school, he served four years in the Army, worked nuclear security for TVA after his discharge, and managed lumber yards for 84 Lumber Co. “Then in 1991, I realized I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I’d always been fascinated by medicine, but going to medical school seemed like a pipe dream. Then I thought, ‘Why can’t it come true? It’s never too late.’” He returned to Birmingham and earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and chemistry at UAB before graduating from the University of South Alabama’s medical school. He opened his first practice in Troy and practiced in Dothan for 12 years before joining St. Vincent’s at Moody.
Family practitioner or specialist?: “I was fortunate enough to meet some very caring, very sharp family practice doctors, and they helped me decide early on that I wanted to be in family practice. It’s important that we have specialists. They serve a great need, but that isn’t where I wanted to be. I like working with children, teens, young adults starting their families and grandparents as they enter the challenges of being senior citizens. In one day, I can see people at all stages of life, and hopefully I can help them.”
On the business aspect of health care: While a resident, Eaton obtained a physician’s MBA from Auburn. “I don’t ever let the business of medicine interfere with providing the kind of care patients need, but I realized that it is important for me to understand the business side of medicine to know what kind of framework I have to operate within to give that care.”
The biggest challenge doctors face: “There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to our government’s role in regulating health care and paying for it. I believe everybody has a right to good quality health care, but we are facing huge, dramatic cutbacks in Medicare reimbursements over the next few years.”
How will be federal debt ceiling agreement affect health care?: The plan, approved last weekend, calls for $1 trillion in initial spending cuts, followed by another $1.4 trillion reduction as recommended by a congressional committee. “If that panel doesn’t find a way to make those cuts, by default they’ll take it out on defense and cut the heck out of Medicare. When people don’t have the coverage they need, they neglect themselves and don’t seek care, to the point that a relatively small problem that we could fix easily if they came to see us becomes a larger problem that can’t be fixed. I know the economy is tight right now, but it really bothers me when I see families and children and single parents afraid to seek care because of financial concerns. I’m here to open the door and improve access. Even if someone just has a question about health care, I’d love to talk to them about it.”