July 15 • 11:07 PM

'Doc Conrad' retires

Longtime family physician reflects on 55 year career in medical field

January 07, 2009
CAPAC — It's hard to put into words what more than 55 years of doctoring in the village of Capac entails. The numbers probably speak more volumes—a conservative estimate would put Dr. Norbert Conrad's patient contacts at more than 250,000 in 55 years and treated fourth, fifth and sixth generations of families.

He, his patients and the community are reflecting on that monumental career in light of his official retirement at the end of January.

"After 55 years, I think I've put in my time," Conrad said of his decision to hang up his stethoscope...but not for good.

Capac’s Dr. Norbert Conrad, D.O. will retire at the end of January after serving the community for more than 55 years. photo by Maria Brown.

He's making plans to head to Alaska this summer for a couple months and hopes to contact a clinic where he can volunteer his time.

After that he has "lots of catching up to do around the house," the doctor said.

When marking his 50th anniversary in practice, Conrad's wife Alberta declared she didn't think he'd ever retire. Alberta worked at his side for 48 years as a registered nurse. The couple has three children and five grandchildren.

They hosted a pig roast at their residence to mark his 50th year of practice and this past August another open house to mark his 55th anniversary was also held.

Last month, in their Goodfellow Edition Newspaper, the Capac Lions Club recognized the 79 year-old Conrad for his longtime service to the community, chronicling his life in their paper's pages.

Conrad was born in 1929 in Armada. He spent his early days attending school and helping on the family's fox farm and tube bending business. It was chores on the farm, like butchering animals, that Conrad said made him familiar with anatomy, and likely put him on the path to becoming a physician.

He attended a one-room schoolhouse up until the eighth grade and graduated from Armada High School in 1946, at the age of 16. That fall he enrolled at the Northern Illinois School of Optometry. The study of eyes turned out to be "not very exciting," Conrad said. He switched his studies to become a surgeon.

He returned to the area for medical studies at St. Clair Community College. After earning a bachelor's degree he began medical school at the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1948, graduated four years later and completed a one year internship at Mt. Clemens General Hospital. His monthly paycheck at the time was $75.

Upon emerging from his internship, Conrad discovered Capac was in need of a physician, since Dr. Kahn had been called into military service during the Korean War. Dr. Conrad's first office was on Main St., and included one exam room, an x-ray room and his office. Residents who required office calls were charged $3. He also made house calls.

For the most part, Dr. Conrad's early career was the stuff Hollywood movies and tv dramas are made of today—delivering a baby from a car parked in his own driveway, sewing up patients in their garages with an IV bag hanging from the door rail and rushing to the hospital to bandage up a farmer who caught his arm in a corn picker.

It's an understatement of sorts to say that times have changed in health care. It's also one of the reasons Conrad decided to take his leave.

"It's getting tougher and tougher to take care of people," he said.

"The insurance companies want to tell you how to treat them."

The days of treating anyone with any kind of condition are long gone thanks to the threat of malpractice.

In recent years, he cut back his hours to about 20 a week, which also caused a few complications.

"It's harder to keep up with the continuation of care of a patient," he said.

With the advent of more medical specialists, Conrad said the general practitioner doctor has become the patient's ultimate 'watchdog.'

"I have to watch for interaction and often take them off medicine," he said, mentioning a recent case that could have led to kidney failure in a a patient.

"You know, the oath says try to do no harm, rather than do some good," he said with a chuckle, referring to the physician's pledge to follow the Hippocratic Oath.

Unfortunately, Conrad said he believes medicine's fate is to become less personal and even more by the numbers for doctors and insurance companies.

With pundits calling for health care reform from the government, Conrad suggests the best way to go about it is for the government "to get out of it."

"Anything the government runs is in debt," he said.

"Before Medicare, the needy were taken care of for nothing and they did just as well."

True to form, Conrad said he'll leave the profession missing the one thing that mattered all along.

"I imagine I'll miss seeing the people I've been taking care of for years," he said.

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