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"Country Doctor of the Year" Takes His Clinic to the Truck Stop

This week, a primary care physician in our area will receive the 2014 Country Doctor of the Year award.And, as WMRA's Luanne Austin reports, his second clinic is at a very "high traffic" location.

[sounds of trucks pulling into White's Travel Center]

Cars pulling off of Interstate 81 into White’s Travel Center in Raphine are definitely in the minority. But if you follow the arrows around the 15-lane truck-only fuel station, you can find your way to the Iron Skillet restaurant. Beyond that are the Petro Lube service station, the Blue Beacon Truck Wash, and the walk-in medical clinic. Wait. Medical clinic? Several years ago, Dr. Rob Marsh saw a need here that he could fill.

MARSH:  One is that there is a need for a local physician in this area to serve the people. Secondly, there is becoming less physicians who are doing DOT physicals for truck drivers, and this truck stop here is becoming a major destination center so there are a lot of trucks here overnight, so there is a need to provide health care for the truckers.

Marsh heads the Raphine Medical Center in addition to maintaining his practice in the sleepy town of Middlebrook, a few miles away. His commitment to serving underserved populations is one of the reasons he’s been named the 2014 Country Doctor of the Year.  Staff Care, an AMN Healthcare company, presents the national award annually to exemplary physicians practicing in communities of 30,000 or fewer.

MARSH:  If I was a true, good businessman, I would close my Middlebrook office, and just have everything here, but I have a loyalty to the people in Middlebrook, I’m going to keep an office open there.

Marsh, now 58, decided to become a country doctor while serving in the US Army in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. Two days after treating Army Ranger and Delta Force soldiers wounded in the Blackhawk Down clash, Marsh was severely wounded by an explosion that killed the soldier standing next to him. In spite of his injury, he continued to treat the wounded around him, showing a dedication that has carried into his practice today, says his office manager, Linda Helmick of Staunton.

HELMICK:  Patients come first. He will run tests that other people say well that my doctor that I had before wouldn’t run any tests – Dr. Marsh will go to the extreme to find what’s going on whether it’s blood work or different type images that need to be done and he just won’t stop until we find out what’s wrong with the patient.

Robert Day, a 45-year-old trucker from Fort Worth, Texas, recently came to the clinic while on a run to New England. Marsh diagnosed him with a serious respiratory infection.

DAY:  If this office hadn’t been here, I’d probably have tried to drive home, and that wouldn’t have been good. I wouldn’t have made it. I would’ve ended up in a hospital somewhere.

Day and other truckers have found it very convenient to have a medical center located in the region’s largest truck stop.  

MARSH:  Most of the time we see them for a DOT physical that needs to be done or a urine drug test or an acute problem like a cold but we’re starting to pick up more and more that want us to be their primary care physician.

Marsh starts his day making hospital rounds at Augusta Health, then sees 20 to 25 patients at the Middlebrook or Raphine clinic. At the end of the day, he often makes house calls on elderly patients who can’t get out.  Twenty-three staff members help things run smoothly, to whom Marsh gives credit for the award.

MARSH:  Certainly it’s an honor, I think though, also though, I’ve gotten too much of the attention. The reason I get the award is all the other people that work for me. My nurse practitioners, my physician’s assistant but the front office people that answer the phone with a good voice, the nurses that have a smile when they take your vital signs, the administrative people that deal with all the insurance clutter that we see, so I think they deserve a lot more credit than I do for receiving this award.

Luanne Austin was a freelance journalist for WMRA from 2014 - 2015.