By Nancy C. Williams
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series in honor of Doctors’ Day, Tuesday, March 30. The series looks at the medical family and how physicians serve as leaders in healthcare, their homes, and our community, especially during the pandemic environment. As frontline workers, physicians experience a great deal of stress. Physicians are also increasingly marrying each other, balancing two careers in the process.
Dr. Stacey McKenzie is an internal medicine and infectious diseases physician who married fellow Vanderbilt University School of Medicine graduate Dr. Robert (Bob) Means in 1992, when both were young faculty members at Vanderbilt. They moved to Johnson City from Lexington, Ky., in 2014 when Bob, a hematologist, was recruited to Quillen College of Medicine as dean.
Earlier, the Means family moved from their joint faculty appointments at Vanderbilt to the University of Cincinnati (where their older two children were born), and on to the Medical University of South Carolina (where their youngest child was born).
“At this point I was on the medical faculty, but because of the children was unable to stay late for committees, etc., thus making it difficult to advance in rank, and we were spending over 40 percent of my salary for childcare,” Stacey said. “I left academia when my youngest child was two, and I began taking night and weekend call with a busy private practice in Charleston. That allowed me to be home with our children all day during the week, and Bob and I were never on night or weekend call at the same time.” When Bob moved to the University of Kentucky, Stacey moved to part-time private practice with Lexington Infectious Diseases Consultants.
Stacey was raised in Kingsport and is a 1977 graduate of Lynn View High School. She was originally inspired to become a doctor by her family physician, Dr. Kenneth Lynch. “I remember how much everyone loved him,” she recalled. “He was a good person and always took great interest in the families he served for so many years.” Stacey is glad to be closer now to old friends and her parents.
After serving as dean until 2018, Bob still practices hematology with ETSU Health, teaches medical students, and continues his research and scholarship. Stacey is a volunteer physician who teaches Quillen students upon occasion, but her main practice is staffing an infectious diseases clinic at Providence Medical Clinic in Kingsport.
Providence is a member of the Tennessee Charitable Clinic Network, and healthcare there is entirely free. Three years ago, Stacey obtained a grant to do testing for hepatitis C infection via fingerstick. Working with Dr. Fola Olanrewaju, who was earning a master’s degree in public health at ETSU, she found that more than 10 percent of patients at Providence had evidence of hepatitis C infection.
“Many people don’t realize that hepatitis C, in most cases, can be cured in eight to 12 weeks by taking pills once a day,” Stacey said. “There are no more injections, which were so difficult to tolerate, and patients in charitable clinics can get the medication free from the pharmaceutical companies.
“We now have a dedicated clinic at Providence and are getting people cured of hepatitis C. The Tennessee Department of Health has partnered with us, and we are in the process of offering testing to all of our patients at Providence, as guidelines call for every adult to be tested once.”
When the pandemic hit, Stacey was serving as president of the Washington-Unicoi-Johnson County Medical Alliance. The Alliance is a volunteer group of spouses married to physicians; their aim is to support physician families and improve the health of the region through volunteer work and educational activities.
Stacey participated in the Pfizer COVID vaccine study through Holston Medical Group and was able to be vaccinated in December. She also signed up with the Tennessee Medical Reserve Corps (www.tnmrc.org).
“Every state has a Medical Reserve Corps,” she said. “I was told the Corps was unusually short of volunteers this year because many of the volunteers are older and at particular risk from COVID. You can sign up as a licensed professional or as a non-medical volunteer.
“I have an active medical license, but I have been directing traffic at the Bristol Dragway post-vaccination lot. I enjoy it quite a bit. Several of my friends have also joined the Medical Reserve Corps, and I’ve made new friends at the racetrack.”
Stacey added that the medical community needs to know about a new law allowing a medical professional who has had a license in good standing within the last five years to reactivate their license at no cost, with liability coverage provided, in order to increase the number of professionals available to staff vaccine clinics.
Bob and Stacey are parishioners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Their three children are grown. The family enjoys watching TV and movies at home, reading, strolling outdoors upon occasion, and, of course, talking about medicine.
“Our marriage is grounded in the same values,” Stacey added. “Bob is always working to make our family more secure…I admire him for that. He is very dedicated to helping his patients and teaching undergrad medical students.
“With the same kind of educational background, you can talk the same language, have the same concerns, be on the same wavelength. Bob works to support our family, and he helps me take care of my parents. As a doctor, I appreciate the stress levels he’s had during his day…we’re able to support each other.”
Check back next week for the next installment in this series.