Wineka column: Following fathers into medical profession not always easy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2011

SALISBURY — Sons of doctors go through a period when they tell themselves they’ll never enter medicine.
It sometimes takes an epiphany, or in the case of Adam Ginn and Michael Goodman, an injury, to lead them toward the profession.
Ginn fractured his forearm in high school and was patched up by Dr. Bill Mason in Salisbury. That experience — seeing that something broken could be fixed as good as new — planted a seed in the young Ginn’s mind that orthopedic medicine could be his calling.
As a high schooler, Michael Goodman was visiting relatives in Iowa when a serious off-road accident broke the tibia and fibula in one of his legs. Quick action by his aunt, a pediatrician who reset the bones in a cornfield, and the on-call doctor in the Omaha, Neb., emergency room saved Goodman’s leg.
The young Goodman spent months in a cast up to his hip. The accident — and his opportunity to recover fully thanks to the physicians’ expertise — made him realize the importance of what doctors, including his father, did daily.
He wouldn’t forget it.
By the time he was a senior at the University of North Carolina, Goodman lettered in track and was on his career path toward becoming a physician. He still runs. “To this day, I don’t have problems with it,” he says of the leg.
Today, Dr. Adam Ginn practices in the same town as his father, Dr. Tom Ginn, who has practiced internal medicine here for a long time. Adam Ginn followed his instincts and became an orthopaedic surgeon, now working for RoMedical and specializing in shoulder, hand, wrist and elbow repairs.
Dr. Michael Goodman, a specialist in hematology and oncology, will start his first day in Salisbury Monday at the Hefner VA Medical Center. Here, he will have veterans as patients, which he loves, but he also will be spending time on the academic side in Winston-Salem at Wake Forest University.
The VA job is a great opportunity, Goodman says, but so is being close to family and coming back to his hometown, where his father has practiced 40 years.
Salisbury’s medical community has always been filled with father-son combinations, such as the Ginns and Goodmans. Names such as Webb, Black, Busby, Agner, Cline, Carlton, Koontz, Goodwin, Tannehill and Smith also come to mind, though father and son haven’t always practiced together here.
Talk to many of these doctors, and you hear familiar themes:
• Growing up, sons who became doctors never thought the medical field was in their future. In fact, their first instinct was to resist anything to do with the profession.
• Doctor fathers seldom push their sons toward becoming physicians. The sons seem to find medical careers on their own.
• Sons who become doctors cherish the chance to work with their fathers, solicit their advice and find great satisfaction having them as medical colleagues.
• You can balance the demands of medicine with family life.
Tom Ginn says the only advice he gave sons Adam and Stuart was to work hard at every level, no matter what they decided to do. He didn’t care what profession they chose, Ginn says, as long as they liked it well enough so that every day they looked forward to going to work.
Adam and Stuart Ginn have each taken his own interesting path toward becoming a doctor. At Wake Forest University, Adam started out as an anthropology major, but he could never quite forget that experience of having a broken arm fixed.
Orthopaedic surgery “seemed like a good fit for me,” Adam Ginn says. He liked the idea that people usually come to an orthopaedic surgeon with a solvable, not necessarily chronic, problem.
“You can usually fix them and get them back to their lives,” he says.
Meanwhile, Stuart Ginn was an English major at the University of Virginia who became an airline pilot, flying jets for United Express. But he retooled and, at 33, is in medical school at Stanford University with hopes of becoming an ear, nose and throat specialist.
As his sons were growing up, Ginn and his colleague, Dr. Demming Ward, intentionally kept their practice small and geared their schedules to give time to both patients and family.
“We were not like the primary care people who weren’t ever home,” Tom Ginn says. “It worked out great.”
With the time they had, the Ginns took to the outdoors, especially fishing trips. The time his father made for the boys was not lost on Adam Ginn. “The idea that you cannot do it (combine medicine and family) is not true,” he says. “He was home a lot.”
Likewise, Michael Goodman says his father, Dr. Myron Goodman, found ways to attend all the significant happenings in the lives of his five children.
“We never suggested he should be a doctor,” says Myron, who has been treating patients for 50 years. “(But) we’re glad he’s doing it for a number of reasons.”
The same goes for Michael’s brother Chris, currently in medical school in the Antilles. As many parents discover, Mary Goodman says, each of their children is different.
Michael is intense, driven and independent — “you have to slow him down all the time,” his mother says. “… He said, ‘I want to help people like they helped me.’”
Chris is a creative sort, who has approached medicine almost from a missionary point of view, looking on himself as a tool for helping humanity. He and his father constantly talk or write each other about medicine, Mary says.
Drs. Chris Agner and David Smith came back to Salisbury, where their fathers, now both deceased, had long-established practices.
As a young physician, Smith remembers that he once filled in for his father, Dr. Jay Smith, when his father was sick. A longtime patient of his father’s called David Smith and demanded that he make a house call. She would expect him in 15 minutes.
Smith explained that he had to stay in the office for other appointments until 5 p.m. and would visit her house when he left work. But the woman soon called back to the office and asked where he was.
“If you’re not here in 15 minutes,” she said, “I’ll call your mother.”
Smith left for her house immediately.
Smith says it’s kind of natural to resist following in a father’s footsteps. “For a long time, I got it in my head that I wanted to be a geologist,” he recalls.
After some soul-searching at Wake Forest, Smith says he realized rocks weren’t for him and he was fighting something he should not fight.
He changed his major to zoology and “decided I was pre-med.”
His first rotation as an intern was in internal medicine, and Smith knew he had found his niche. “Medicine, for me, fell into a logical mode,” he says. “It made sense.”
Growing up, Smith didn’t see a lot of his father, whose family practice in Spencer meant he was on call around the clock. Smith remembers a family vacation in Myrtle Beach when Dr. Jay Smith traveled home to deliver a baby, then drove back to the beach to resume his vacation.
“I fought it,” Smith says of being a doctor, “then I accepted it. Then I expanded on it. If I had to do it all over again, I would.”
For three months after medical school and before he entered the Army, Smith was able to work with his father in the summer of 1967. “I was a novice,” Smith says. “I learned I didn’t know everything, and I had a good mentor for three months.”
Later, when David Smith joined Dr. Roy Agner’s practice, he quickly fell into the mode of being colleagues with his father, “and that was really a good feeling,” he says.
Chris Agner says he was blessed with having parents “who didn’t push me toward being a doctor.” He joined his father, Roy, at Rowan Diagnostic Clinic in 1978.
“They welcomed my interest,” Agner says. “As I grew and realized what my talents and interests were, I migrated toward that, and it has been a great choice for me.”
A lot of guys talk fondly of going hunting and fishing with their fathers, Agner says. “I went doctoring with mine, and that was wonderful,” he adds. “… That was our hobby, we shared medicine together. I still wish he was around so I could ask his advice.”
From the beginning, when Chris Agner first began practicing medicine in Salisbury, his father treated him as an equal.
“I think it takes a special father to be able to let his son be his own man,” Chris says. “I was so blessed by my father’s nature.”
Roy Agner died in 1999, but it’s sometimes difficult even now for Chris to avoid being compared to him.
“I still have elderly ladies,” Agner says, “who pat my hand and say, ‘Keep going. Some day you’ll be as good as your father.’”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@