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Five questions with Kay Myrtle

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, at 9:58 p.m.

Kay Myrtle, director of practice management for Via Christi Clinic, has worked in health care for more than 50 years and will retire Monday.

“I love what I do,” said Myrtle, 74. “It’s going to be interesting to give it up. … I’m a workaholic. I kind of approach everything that way. I don’t think I have another pace.”

About two years ago, Myrtle had triple bypass heart surgery. But that didn’t persuade her to retire.

“Most of the time people would start slowing down, but it made me want to be healthy again so I could be as active as I was,” she said. “I’m working really hard at that.”

Myrtle was born in Wichita and raised on a farm near Hamilton.

She started working for Dr. G. Gayle Stephens in 1958 and helped him develop the Wesley Family Practice Residency Program in Wichita in the late 1960s. She said it was among the first family medicine residencies in the country.

The residency program moved under the auspices of the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita in 1972. Myrtle worked there as the family practice residency coordinator and then took on the role of assistant director of operations, running clinics for about 25 years.

In 1997, she joined Via Christi as the director of operations at Via Christi Medical Associates before becoming the director of practice management for Via Christi Clinic. She helped integrate Wichita Clinic – now Via Christi Clinic – into the Via Christi Health system. The clinic was acquired in 2010.

“I think it’s time now for new blood to take it and go with it,” Myrtle said. “Medicine’s changing dramatically, and it’s going to take some youth and some energy to take it forward.”

The self-described Type A personality has been married for 54 years to James Myrtle. They have three adult children, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Q. What got you interested in health care?

A. There are two major things. I was raised on a farm, and we took care of animals all the time and delivered animals and saw them get into trouble, and I was always interested in that. It never bothered me, I didn’t get sick and I was always wanting to nurture.

When I was about 12 years old, there was a polio epidemic in eastern Kansas, and I got a very small case of polio and was admitted to the hospital and treated there for a while. I became very curious about everything they did. From then on, I knew I wanted to do something in medicine.

I even thought about being a doctor, and I come from a very economically suppressed family. We weren’t encouraged to go to school. My dad said, “you need to develop your domestic skills, so you can be a wife and a mother,” and I bucked him all the way. So I set out on my own, and the job with Dr. Stephens allowed me to grow and seek further education.

Q. What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced?

A. The newness of moving inside of a big health system required me to learn a lot of new things where there were regulations and expectations that in a private practice you don’t have.

The integration of two major medical groups (two years ago) was one of the most challenging things. I wanted to make it work. It was real important to me to provide the face and the attitude to move forward positively with it. Most integrations don’t work, and I wanted to make sure my part in this was positive.

Q. What are some of the major trends you’ve seen in the last 50 years?

A. Electronic medical records have been huge for all of us.

The other trend is large practices versus small practices. You won’t see very many one-doctor practices anymore. In order to make it in medicine, which was absolutely the farthest thing from my mind 50 years ago, that doctors would struggle to make a living in medicine, but in our world today it is going to be very hard for them to make the kind of living that they had in the past.

You watch who’s joining medicine. We have a lot of women who will want to have families and children and that’s a trend to do both.

The technology is so profound that that’s changed medical outcomes. We’re living longer because of it, and we’re harder to take care of. We cost a lot of money, us Medicare people.

Q. What’s kept you in the field?

A. I love it. It’s a part of me. The doctor that I worked for was an entrepreneur. I saw him develop things that I knew I could help develop. I’m pretty scientifically minded, and I like all of that. Everybody has a niche, and I fit in.

At one point in time I got really frustrated with medicine and I went and took a job in the oil industry, and two weeks later I went, “I think I can go back to work with those doctors.” I knew then that my heart was in medicine.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. I’m going to play a bigger part in my great-granddaughter’s life. I hope to keep her more when her mother’s going to school. I love gardens and flowers. I’m going to learn all about orchids. I want to have a greenhouse.

When you have a full-time job like I’ve had, you don’t really have the discretionary freedom. I’m going to go see my son in California and my sister in Idaho and just go someplace during the day. I’ve never done that, so I’m going to see what it’s like on the other side.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com.

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