After 12 years as executive medical director of Volunteers in Medicine Clinic on Hilton Head Island, Dr. Frank Bowen has decided to hang up his stethoscope. Bowen will retire around the end of the year.
This marks the end of an era for the clinic. Under Bowen's tenure, the clinic has grown by leaps and bounds. The mission is to provide health care to people who live or work on Hilton Head Island or Daufuskie Island and cannot afford it on their own. The number of patients has increased as the population of the area swelled, and the clinic, led by Bowen, has tried its best to keep up with demand.
When he took over as medical director, the clinic had 17,000 or 18,000 patient visits a year. Now, they have 34,000 a year, according to VIM statistics.
In addition to that, the clinic has gone from six exam rooms to 14. They have more equipment now. They have electronic medical records. And the number of volunteers working at the clinic has increased significantly.
But one of the biggest things that has changed over the years has been a change in mindset, Bowen said. The clinic has gone from treating mostly acute health problems to focusing on prevention.
"It was largely walk-in patients with 'Oh, my gosh. I got sick today,' " Bowen said. "The clinic has moved much more in the direction of preventing illness than it had been in the past."
He said the clinic has created various prevention programs over the years. For example, they offer pap smears and mammograms to detect cancer and other problems early.
The clinic also uses primary care physicians and specialists to manage complex diseases. It contracts with the Hilton Head Hospital for procedures and lab testing and with AccessHealth in Beaufort for care of patients on an acute basis.
Bowen said the clinic has become more active in working with other health care entities, such as AccessHealth SC, to take care of medically indigent patients. The clinic also has become active with the South Carolina Free Clinic Association and is in the process of getting other clinics accredited and licensed in South Carolina. Bowen is chairman of the association's board and is actively involved in free clinics around the state.
Originally started on Hilton Head by Dr. Jack McConnell, Volunteers in Medicine is no longer a single clinic. It's grown to more than 90 clinics in 28 states. Most volunteers are retired medical professionals, including doctors, dentists, nurses, social workers and more. There are more than 700 volunteers at the Hilton Head clinic.
"The people that volunteer here are just absolutely fabulous," he said. "Of our 100 or so doctors, two-thirds of them are medical school faculty."
Bowen was a neonatologist for about 25 years, rising to become head of neonatololgy at Philadelphia Hospital. After moving to South Carolina, he began volunteering at VIM as a pediatrician and took the job as executive medical director when it opened up.
Although he's stepping down from his position as director, Bowen plans to volunteer at the clinic when he can.
"It's been a very gratifying 12 years," said Bowen, who plans to spend more time with his grandchildren. "It's time to put a new brain in this chair ... and I'll help in any way I can."
The clinic is still searching for a new executive medical director.
Urologist Dr. Edgar Soifer was one of the founders of VIM. He said Bowen has been completely dedicated to the clinic, making it the best it could be.
"The care the patients get is incredible," Soifer said. "And Frank Bowen coordinates everything. We're going to miss him."