During the last year, there have been countless instances of healthcare professionals being recognized for their epic efforts during an unprecedented pandemic. It only seems fitting that on National Doctors’ Day 2021, we highlight three Hancock Regional physicians who have provided both their leadership and medical skills to our community long before COVID-19 hijacked lives and upended healthcare.
Dr. Julia Compton
The CEO of Hancock Physician Network (HPN) wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a doctor.
Julia Compton, M.D., initially hesitated on her commitment to becoming a physician, taking a position as a microbiologist at Eli Lilly following undergraduate studies at Indiana University. The job that followed — as a consultant to hospitals — would put her in conversations with chief medical officers in which the topic turned to medicine. “Obviously, medicine was my passion,” says Dr. Compton.
Attending Indiana University School of Medicine, the native Hoosier set her sights on being a neurosurgeon, despite a personality profile index that pointed her to radiology oncology. But a series of happenstance encounters with radiation oncologists — a mother’s friend and a random seatmate during a flight — caused a reconsideration.
Since 2014, she has served patients from Hancock County and surrounding communities, first as a radiation oncologist and then as the president of HPN. “I had the opportunity and privilege of being part of the team that opened the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center in 2015,” she says. For her, that accomplishment goes beyond providing a strictly medical treatment.
“The biggest element for someone diagnosed with cancer is finding a place that really cares and will wrap around both that patient and their family,” she says. “Cancer is scary. It was really important to me that patients have resources in the room to guide them through treatment and answer questions, having dieticians and nutritionists checking in with them and providing support groups throughout their treatment.”
Participating in that journey has been one of the most rewarding facets of Dr. Compton’s career. “Getting to walk with patients through the entire journey; holding their hands and saying, ‘WE are going to get through it’; watching them experience some of the hardest parts of their lives, and then giving them a high-five when treatment is done … it’s amazing.”
Just a few months prior to the pandemic’s deadly spread, Dr. Compton began her role heading up HPN. From her vantage point, she has seen some of the best healthcare professionals make something extraordinary from something worse than anyone ever anticipated.
“Throughout the months, creating processes with my physician peers that impact the whole community has been remarkable,” she says. “I witnessed physicians coming together like I never have, helping the community while keeping ourselves safe. It was incredible. The speed in which we could make changes, share ideas and allow people to create and innovate was totally awe-inspiring.”
Perhaps what Dr. Compton likes best about serving Hancock Regional patients is the idea that the physicians and clinical staff are what she terms “very high-value healthcare” in a setting in which those treating you might be a parent of your child’s classmate, a neighbor, or a former schoolmate. “You can get the clinical care anywhere, but that feeling of knowing and trusting your medical team? We do that incredibly well.”
Dr. Stephen Flink
Like Dr. Compton, Stephen Flink, M.D., hadn’t been focused on the medical profession when he majored in chemistry at Wabash College. “But then I started doing clinical research and thought it was sort of boring,” he says.
What he did like was analyzing and figuring out complex problems, which led him down the vocational path to internal medicine. “Being an internist is like being a detective. You are establishing a diagnosis through clues in one’s history, physical symptoms, and test results,” he explains. “And then I made a rather surprising discovery in that I really enjoyed the relationships I had with patients. I’m not just treating a disease, but I’m taking care of someone with whom I have a relationship.”
He’s been doing that for a good part of four decades. Now 71, Dr. Flink serves as the medical director for HPN, a job he started on a part-time basis while still practicing medicine. While he never had much interest in the administrative side of healthcare, he believes his professional experiences allow him to navigate both the healthcare professional side as well as the administration perspective. “It’s very different. Lots of meetings, collaboration, and long-term projects. But most physicians are lifelong learners. I still enjoy learning, and I love winning,” he says. “I want to do everything I can to help our physicians attain the very best outcomes for patients.”
He knows firsthand the challenges physicians face and notes that once he stopped practicing, that difficulty became even more clear. “Most people really don’t have any idea how hard it is. You’re making hundreds of critical decisions every day, figuring out how to address numerous coexisting health issues, and there’s no rest. When I stopped practicing medicine, in retrospect, I couldn’t believe I ever worked that hard!
“But it’s a very fulfilling occupation,” he continues. “You have an intellectual challenge; you’re getting to help people who are grateful, and you’re making a difference in their lives.”
Dr. Flink believes he is helping patients receive the best care physically, emotionally, spiritually … even extending the offer to pray together if that was something they sought. “Some people aren’t interested in it, but for some, it’s very important to their healing. I have prayed about my position here often, and I have no doubt the Lord led me here.”
Dr. Michael Fletcher
Another internal medicine physician, Dr. Michael Fletcher believes the combination of being scientifically inclined and a “people person” led him down the road to medicine. And he contends he’s never been “to work” a day in his life.
“Enjoying working with people and making a difference, valuing being there for people when they’re at difficult times in their lives, married with the science of internal medicine was definitely a draw,” he reflects. Like Dr. Flink, he enjoys the detective work of diagnosis. “The ability to put together information — the clues — to solve a diagnosis is intellectually very stimulating. When you figure it out, it’s so rewarding. By far, the most difficult thing about being a physician is to find the time to be as thorough in the care of patients as you want while balancing that with personal and family time.”
But challenges seem few when patients put things in perspective. “I remember walking down the hall of the hospital, and a man walked up to me and said, ‘You saved my life.’ That is the reward, the meaningfulness as a physician,” he says. You always want to think about, ‘What if that was my wife, mom, child?’ Being a physician is also about being empathetic and making that personal connection.”
Practicing at Hancock Regional Hospital since 1989, he believes that both the quality and breadth of service providing healthcare is something of which to be proud. “We have an exceptional medical staff that really embraces and lives our values. We also have very proficient physicians and specialists who have excellent training. Really, almost any healthcare service you need, we have the specialist to take care of that right here, within Hancock Health.”