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Reflections on 33 Years in South Dakota Medicine

Feb 25, 2020 07:00AM ● By Med Magazine

By Alex Strauss

In many ways, H. Thomas Hermann’s 33 year career in South Dakota medicine was not unlike that of other small-town family physicians. Since 1987, he cared for grandparents, delivered hundreds of babies, and was on call to the ER for 24-hours at a time. He watched partners come and go, cared for multiple generations of some families, and took the lead in community projects.

But there is one experience that few doctors outside his town have ever encountered. For one week a year, his community of 6,000 is flooded with a half million temporary residents -  along with all of the health issues and medical emergencies that any city that size could expect. 

Dr. Hermann with his wife, Terry, and their children Molly and Joel.

“It’s just incredible what our small town of Sturgis has done to adapt to being inundated by so many people,” says Hermann, who retired from Monument Health Sturgis Clinic in January. During his long career, Dr. Hermann has provided medical coverage for 33 of the 79 annual Sturgis Motorcycle rallies. “It’s amazing how many people in many different areas are involved in supporting a rally - from medicine to EMS to all of the law enforcement to all of the other people that do different jobs.”

It is typical of Dr. Hermann to put the focus on others. Which is why this month, we are putting the focus on him. We asked him to share some of the insight he has gained over three decades of serving his patients, his community, and his fellow physicians. 

MED: What drew you to family medicine and to Sturgis?

HTH: I pretty much grew up in Sturgis. My family moved here when I was nine and graduated from Sturgis High School. I studied chemistry at St. Olaf College and did some other things for a while. But when I decided to go to medical school, I knew I wanted to be in family medicine. I did not want to be in the hospital all the time. I wanted to deliver babies and do emergency things and be an advocate for my patients. And I remembered my own family doctor, who was wonderful. It was just fortunate that we had a medical school here in South Dakota and a family practice residency program in Sioux Falls. And that I had the opportunity to come home to Sturgis.

MED; How did you come to be connected with what was then Regional Health?

HTH: I was part of the Massa Berry Clinic, which was the first physician group that Regional bought in 1995. The idea of not having to run a business seemed to be the wisest choice at the time. It paved the way for us to get a new clinic building, additional staff, benefits, etc. It instantly eliminated a lot of administrative hassles. 

MED: Do you think this trend toward physicians as employees is a good thing?

HTH: I think there are good and bad things about it. For the most part, as long as you are able to continue to focus on good patient care, I think it has been largely positive. Thanks to government regulations, it is even more difficult to be in private practice now than it used to be. 

MED: You have long been active with the South Dakota State Medical Association. What do you see as some of the most positive changes in state medicine?

HTH: Moving to Electronic Health Records was a major challenge and cost us productivity for a while, but it is a huge benefit to patients. We can now have so much information at our fingertips. And I think most of us have adapted to it. Another positive thing I see is that a lot more things are handled by teams now, which is good for patient care. We also have top-of-the-line imaging and laboratory services in most parts of the state now. 

MED: Are there any trends that you find concerning?

HTH: More and more physicians of my generation are retiring, so we are going to have shortages of primary care physicians, which will drive up costs. Many of our good PAs and NPs can help take on more of the primary care burden. But we need more graduate program support to encourage more doctors into primary care. That is one of the primary objectives of the SDSMA Foundation. 

Dr. Hermann greets his long time colleague, Charles Lewis, DO.

MED: Thirty-three years is a long time to practice. Is there anything that has not changed in that time?

HTH: I think what hasn’t changed is that we continue to try to do what is right for our patients, offering quality medical care. In family medicine, we try to be good listeners and good advocates and to guide our patients in making good choices. 

MED: What is next for you and your family?

HTH: My wife is from Sturgis, too, so the Black Hills are home for both of us. The longest we have even been gone was two weekends with a week in between. So we may do a bit of travelling with friends and see what’s out there. We are so blessed and grateful for good health. But I will also be staying active in physician organizations in the state and I will be available to the clinic, as needed.