“I wanted to go to medical school when I graduated from high school, but my college did not have a "pre-med" major... so, eventually, I moved to New York City and had the opportunity to run residential facilities for mentally ill homeless people for seven years. I decided I needed more education to have more power to help people, and that becoming a physician would give me that power.”
Sanford D. Bishop, Jr.
“FROM TIMES SQUARE... TO SERVE THE RURAL POOR ”
It's a long way from busy Times Square, in the heart of the Big Apple, to the tiny, medically underserved rural enclave of Fort Gaines (population 1,100), but Karen Kinsell doesn't regret her move there after switching careers and going to medical school-at age 33.
"I had originally planned to go back and work in the shelters in New York City," she said "but came to realize that the areas of true shortage of health care are in the rural areas, especially the South." After contacting several community health centers there, she initially accepted a position in southwestern Georgia where she understood she would be the town doctor.
However, things didn't work out - "It was not a match made in heaven!" - and it took some time and a Georgia state appeals court decision striking down the restrictive non-compete clause Kinsell had signed to free her to become Fort Gaines' "town doctor." Operating her practice out of the Clay County Medical Center, Kinsell admits to having the "privilege and the pleasure of the old-time, small-town practice of medicine."
"My home phone, cell phone and pager are readily available, and patients do use them frequently. This is essential because I have no other doctor to cover me and the nearest emergency room is twenty miles away.
"We are open 10 hours a day and see about thirty patients a day in the warmer weather, and closer to forty in the winter. Few patients make appointments, as many don't know in advance when they'll be able to get a ride," Kinsell explains. "When they are sick or ready for a check-up, they come in. No one is told that they have to wait two weeks to see the doctor, though sometimes they may choose to wait several hours. And I do make house calls."
In a county with no hospital and only one other doctor, who is approaching retirement, Kinsell's service is absolutely critical. Says her staff, "We almost have a free clinic because she turns no one away. She is one of those special people who go 'above and beyond the call of duty.' She is committed twenty-four hours a day."
Nominating her to be a Local Legend, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2), called her "an outstanding physician and community member not content to observe and pity problems. Her constant goal is problem solution and to this she dedicates herself fully."
In addition to her practice, Kinsell has helped to organize and direct enormously successful annual free medical clinics, co-sponsored by the Fort Gaines Lions Club and the Remote Area Medical Foundation, a medical relief organization based in neighboring Tennessee which provides health care in remote areas. These volunteer-organized and run sessions treat some 500 people over a weekend, providing eye exams, and eye glasses, dental and general medical care.
Says Kinsell, "They are a huge undertaking but very gratifying and help to fill some of the gaps in access to specialty care. We hope that eventually better access to care will make them unnecessary."
Director of residence for two residences for the homeless, Westside Cluster of Centers and Settlements, New York City
Earns MD and MPH degrees, after switching careers from gerontological social work
Opens Primary Care Internal Medicine solo practice in underserved Clay County
Doctor of Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons; Master of Public Health, School of Public Health, Columbia University