When ten-year-old Katrina Poe of Kilmichael, Mississippi, declared that she wanted to be a doctor, her parents had their doubts. After all, no one in Poe’s family had even been to college before. Now, Katrina Poe is not just a physician, she is the 2005 Country Doctor of the Year.
Presented by Staff Care, Inc., an Irving, Texas-based physician staffing firm, The Country Doctor of the Year is a national award created to recognize the spirit, skill and dedication of America’s rural medical practitioners. Staff Care has presented the award since 1992 to exemplary primary care physicians practicing in communities of 20,000 or less.
According to Joseph Caldwell, executive vice president of Staff Care, Inc, the Country Doctor of the Year Award has typically been presented to older, male physicians who have practiced in their communities for dozens of years. Dr. Poe, by contrast, is young, female, and African American.
“Not all country doctors are holdovers from a previous age of medicine,” Caldwell observes. “There are still younger physicians like Dr. Poe who are willing to serve out on the island that is rural healthcare. She shatters a lot of stereotypes.”
One of these stereotypes is the notion that younger professionals who leave their rural homes never return. Dr. Poe was born in Kilmichael, a tiny hamlet of 900 people some 80 miles north of Jackson, Mississippi, was raised there, and returned to the town in 2001 after completing her medical training at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where she was named Intern of the Year.
Her return to Kilmichael was critical to the community. The town was about to lose its only doctor, who had served in the area for 45 years. Without this physician, the local hospital would shut its doors and any hopes for the future growth or vibrancy of Kilmichael would be severely dimmed.
The then 31-year-old daughter of factory workers took over sole responsibility for health care in the community, opening a clinic that was jammed with patients from day one. Initially, appointments were on a first come, first served basis, and Dr. Poe would see as many as 100 patients in a day. Though appointments now are scheduled, she still adheres to a crushing routine, seeing 250-300 clinic patients a week, rounding on hospital patients, making house-calls, serving as medical director of the local nursing home, and monitoring residents of the community’s home for mentally challenged youth.
In addition, Dr. Poe serves as the first line of emergency care in the community and is on call almost continuously, night and day. Her reputation for compassionate care has resonated throughout central Mississippi and has attracted patients from adjacent towns and counties. Terminal patients have been known to refuse care at larger hospitals so that they might spend their last days tended to by Dr. Poe. Her practice has united all segments of the community, young and old, black and white, who swear by Dr. Poe’s skill and empathy, Caldwell observes. She remains a solo physician in the classic country doctor mode, with no specialists or other colleagues to fall back on in situations that often call for life-or-death decision making.
Her medical duties have not prevented Dr. Poe from taking on an active role in the community, serving as the high school team physician, as youth director at the local church, as a Sunday School teacher and a Boy Scout leader. Incredibly, she also is the mother of two boys, one of them an infant.
“Dr. Poe is more than a physician in Kilmichael, she’s the community’s guardian angel,” Caldwell says. “To observe her practice is to witness the power of knowledge and compassion at work. We are very proud to honor her as the 2005 Country Doctor of the Year.”
As the Country Doctor of the Year, Dr. Poe will be able to enjoy at least one week of time off, as Staff Care will provide a temporary physician to fill in for her at no charge, a service valued at approximately $10,000. She also will receive the award’s signature plaque, featuring a country doctor making his rounds in a buggy, and an engraved stethoscope. Additional information regarding the Country Doctor of the Year, including past award recipients, can be found at www.countrydoctoraward.com.