Shirtless, sweating and surveying the acres of watermelons left to harvest with his grandfather, Thomas Field knew he didn’t want this seemingly endless field to be his future.
Now a doctor nearing retirement — though, he doesn’t expect to ever stop — Field’s memory is clear. That moment is where his path diverged to bring him to where he is at today. Now 72, he’s been a doctor since 1975 and his practice, Medical of Dubois, is celebrating 20 years in business.
“Watermelons will make you smart,” Dr. Field joked. “I ain’t picking watermelons today, am I?”
In a seasoned voice, the doctor laid out the moment. He and his grandfather, Guy Lofton, were working the 80-acre field. “FYI that’s a hell of a bunch of watermelons,” he said. “And the sweat, so much sweat, I could pull my leather belt off and wring it out.”
Young Thomas, lamenting his lot in life picking up the heavy fruit and putting them in the wagon, complained to his grandfather. Lofton looked down at the 15-year-old. “Anyone stupid enough to do this job, ought to have to do it,” he said before continuing on in the wagon.
“It pissed me off for a good while but then I thought, ‘he’s right, I ain’t going to do this. I think I’ll go to school,'” Dr. Field said.
While becoming a doctor wasn’t his immediate thought — he kind of stumbled into that path, he did decide that an education would be key to his not remaining in the watermelon fields of Gibson County. Upon graduating from Owensville High School in 1964, Dr. Field headed to a trade school in St. Louis called Gradwohl School of Laboratory Technique. After a year there, he graduated as a hospital laboratory technician.
He came back to Indiana and worked in a hospital in Oakland City for a while before moving to Arkansas to work at a hospital there for a time. Then he headed to Florida where he worked until he decided the laboratory technician gig wasn’t fulfilling his needs.
“It wasn’t buying me the lifestyle I aspired to,” he explained.
So, he returned to Indiana and took a job at Mead Johnson in Evansville as a microbiologist. Through Mead Johnson, Dr. Field had access to a tuition reimbursement program for employees taking college courses that applied to their jobs. “As long as you got better than a C on it, they paid the tuition,” he said.
It sounded like a good deal, so Dr. Field headed over to the Indiana State Univerity Evansville Campus — what later became the University of Southern Indiana — which happened to be near Mead Johnson on First Avenue at the time.
He decided to take 12 credit hours his first semester as a challenge to himself.
“My father had no trouble telling me that I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed on a daily basis,” Field said. “I decided to really hit it hard and see what I could do.”
He finished the semester with a 4.0 GPA. Then he took 16 hours the next semester and continued through summer all while working 40 hours a week at Mead Johnson. “I was going straight through and Mead Johnson was paying,” Dr. Field said.
He decided to become a doctor and after three years and carrying a 3.89 GPA, he applied and was accepted to Indiana University School of Medicine. He was the first to do so with only three years of college completed. “I saw it as a $50 bet,” Field said referring to the $50 application fee back in 1971. “I saw it as a challenge as well as a way to cut out attending and paying for one more year of college. I could also become a doctor a year faster.”
Money was still an issue, so Dr. Field worked his way through school. He performed autopsies with the state coroner, he sold encyclopedias door to door, sold blood — back then a unit of his B-positive blood would buy groceries for two weeks — and even sold lakefront property in Kentucky to pay for his tuition on top of getting some scholarships and student loans.
When he finished school, Dr. Field remembers returning home and handing his mother the letter affirming he would be a medical doctor. “She was pretty tickled with that,” Field said. “My dad, he read it and put it down on the table without a word. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
He attributes his dad’s mentality to the harsh conditions of farming back then. Field and his brother still own the family property and farm. “Now, you won’t catch my ass in an International Harvester picking corn, but I’ve got the land,” he laughed.
Dr. Field headed to Evansville for his residency and was hired into the emergency department. He worked for hospitals there and eventually practiced at St. Joseph Hospital in Huntingburg where he also operated clinics in Holland and Santa Claus.
While working in the area he learned about the uptick in what he likened to doc-in-a-box practices or urgent care facilities and was hired on by a pair of doctors that operated five in Southern Indiana and Kentucky. “They wanted me because I had a medical license in Kentucky but I had decided to learn as much as possible about their practices while I was there,” he explained.
In 1997, Dr. Field determined he had enough experience and financial security to strike out on his own. He started Medical of Dubois completely independent from any other hospital group with his own money at 695 Third Street in Jasper.
“I knew I had bitten off a pretty good plug,” Dr. Field explained. “I remember one day digging in the change jar to pay for gas to get to work.”
But, despite the usual difficulties that occur when one strikes out on their own, the practice has grown for 20 years.
The company’s motto, Get In -> Get Out -> Get Well, points to their specialization in helping people in their moments of need while minimizing time in the waiting room. “Very seldom do patients wait very long but sometimes we’ll get a complication and it will slow us down,” Dr. Field admitted. “Then, I’ll usually go out into the waiting room and let people know it may be a little longer wait than they anticipated.”
In a modern social context of fast service and busy lives, the practice has flourished as people seek more economical and convenient ways to deal with those surprise medical situations. Dr. Field has also expanded into Loogootee. Urgent Care of Martin County is operated by a local nurse practitioner and supporting staff.
Medical of Dubois services people in their times of immediate need as well as provides special exams like those necessary for sports, pre-employment and commercial drivers (CDL). They also provide drug screenings for local employers and can handle minor surgeries.
“Fish hooks, scrapes, stitches, twisted ankles,” Dr. Field listed off many of the types of situations they usually see. “I like to tell people that 90 percent of the medical issues you have can be handled today, the other 10 percent may take a while because we will have to refer you out.”
Also, Dr. Field’s years of experience as a board certified family physician and emergency room doctor comes in handy in identifying more serious conditions for patients.
As growth and technology have forced changes, Dr. Field brought on his son Blake to assist in running the business in 2011. “I have a lawyer, MBA and IT guy that is my relative and my only heir,” Dr. Field said about Blake’s multiple degrees and experience.
Blake’s experience in law and business has helped solidify the company’s business practices and procedures regarding regulated physicals like those necessary for a CDL.
Although there have been tough times when Dr. Field has looked at some of his peers working as hospital employees with envy, he couldn’t be an employee any more than he could have picked watermelons for the rest of his life.
“I’m not going to do it,” he said. “I hold a doctorate and I am not going to be another employee.”
These days, Dr. Field sees his journey as being successful and working with his son has been a blessing. The practice employs three nurse practitioners as well as supporting staff so being semi-retired he fills in for any employees taking vacations or sick days. He also makes appearances weekly to help out and see his regular patients.
“I couldn’t buy a better spot,” he said. “He (Blake) and I have got it going here.”
Medical of Dubois is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. They can be reached at 812-634-6824 and online at http://medicalofdubois.com/.