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Dr. Robert Bösl, a physician at Stevens Community Medical Center, was recognized with the Country Doctor of the Year Award at a ceremony in Starbuck on Jan. 9. Presenting the award are (left) Sean Ebner, Staff Care President and (right) Bonnie Britton, Senior Vice President of Staff Care. The award recognizes the spirit, skill, and dedication of America’s rural medical practitioners.

Ceremony in Starbuck to celebrate County Doctor of the Year

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MORRIS – The drive from the Starbuck Clinic to Stevens Community Medical Center is about 19.6 miles.

Dr. Robert Bösl makes the drive back and forth at least once a day, coming to Morris to check on his patients at the hospital before opening the clinic in the town he’s called home for more than 30 years.

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In November, Bösl was recognized with the Country Doctor of the Year Award, an award that recognizes the spirit, skill, and dedication of America’s rural medical practitioners. Staff Care, a leading temporary physician staffing firm, has presented the national award since 1992 to physicians practicing in communities of 30,000 or less.

Community members in Starbuck and Morris are invited to a ceremony celebrating Bösl’s award tonight, Thursday, Jan. 9, at 6:15 at the Starbuck Community Center. friends and co-workers celebrated the award on Thursday in a ceremony at the Starbuck Community Center. There will be a social hour prior to the ceremony beginning at 5 p.m. 

Bösl said he was notified he was a finalist for the award in October. After a phone interview with members of the selection committee where he “didn’t scare them off too badly,” a small group visited Starbuck and Morris to do interviews and visit the clinic.

A week later, Bösl received a notification that he’d been selected for the award.

“There are many family docs out there who do a good job in rural areas, as well as many surgeons, internists, psychiatrists – it’s not just for family medicine – certainly it’s an honor but I know there are a lot of other docs out there that would qualify as well,” said Bösl.

Bösl was born in Sauk Centre, Minn. After earning several citations as a medical corpsman during the Vietnam War, Bösl began working at local clinic in Starbuck in 1982. In 1993, the clinic merged with the Starbuck Hospital. When the hospital closed in 2005, it looked like there would be no practicing physicians in the community.

“I’d made a commitment to the community psychologically and I felt bad that it looked like everything was going to go by the wayside,” said Bösl.

Rather than sit back, Bösl took out a mortgage on his home to build a new clinic in Starbuck. Footings for the building were poured in January 2005 and the clinic opened in April, Bösl said. As the single doctor in the community, Bösl was on call 24 hours a day, seven days per week and offered a full spectrum of care to patients, from obstetrics to geriatrics.

Because the hospital in Starbuck was closed, Bösl would often admit patients from the clinic to Stevens Community Medical Center. After developing relationships with doctors at SCMC and President and CEO John Rau, Bösl decided it was in the best long-term interest of the community to merge the clinic with SCMC.

“SCMC has welcomed my joining the staff here and me bringing my patients here and working together to care for those patients,” said Bösl.

Each day, Bösl drives to Morris to check in with patients at SCMC beginning at about 6:30 a.m. After doing his rounds, Bösl heads back to Starbuck to open the clinic at about 8:30 a.m. On some days, he returns to SCMC over the noon hour to meet with patients before heading back to Starbuck again.

One of the biggest changes to the practice of medicine over Bösl’s 33-year career – for good and for bad – has been the increase of technology.

“When I first started practicing, you depended a lot more on your physical exam to decide, for example, if someone has appendicitis,” he recalled. “Now, with the CAT scanner readily available, the CAT scan is probably depended on more than your exam to tell us whether to operate or not.”

The increased influence of insurance companies has also changed the way doctors practice medicine.

“Patients, over the years, have started to look at health care a lot like insurance companies do, that doctors are just technicians who order and interpret test results, Bösl said.

“They want a blood test or they want an MRI without even seeing a physician because the answer is always in the test – but it’s usually not, the test still needs to be interpreted in the context of what’s going on with the patient,” he explained.

On the other side, insurance companies and the government have continued to increase their influence in medical decisions, Bösl said, emphasizing quality control measures that may not actually improve patient care.

Despite those frustrations, Bösl said his favorite part of his job continues to be “never knowing what’s behind door number two because the challenges are always there.”

“There are times when patients come in thinking something is very straight-forward and there’s something that makes me scratch my head and say, ‘Wait a minute.’”

And of course, it’s always fun to deliver babies – “it’s one of the nice parts of medicine where it’s a happy time.”

The award will provide a temporary doctor for two weeks so Bösl can take a vacation. Bösl said he will be heading south in March to visit his family in Kansas and friends in Nevada for a golf trip.

UPDATE: Pioneer Public Television attended the ceremony and put together a short summary video of the ceremony
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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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