Member of the Month:
Robert Borchardt, MD
Vernon FP ensures legacy of family medicine in his town
By Perdita Henry
Finding your path in life is sometimes accompanied by an epiphany. A moment where everything becomes clear and you put all your focus into building the vision you have for your life. Those seminal moments, made up of several innocuous ones that provide a sense of awareness or belonging you didn’t feel a moment before, add up until the path becomes clear.
It was little moments that set Robert Borchardt, MD, down his path, which began in Crowell, Texas, just 33 miles west of Vernon. “A major factor in my choice to pursue family medicine was my uncle, Alvin Borchardt, MD, who was a doctor here in Vernon before me,” Borchardt says. “When I was a kid, I saw him mostly during family visits, but he was around.” As time went on, young Robert became more aware of the family medicine tradition by interacting with local doctors. He eventually made the decision to attend medical school. “When I got out of internship and began my residency, I went through all the different disciplines, but I didn’t find one that I liked over the other ones,” Borchardt says. Luckily, with the help of a great residency director — Gail Stevens, MD, at Westly Medical Center ‐ he came to an important conclusion. “I couldn’t point to one event or episode, but the family medicine specialty kind of grew on me, and eventually I realized this was where I wanted to be.”
After committing to family medicine and completing his residency, he began thinking more about where he wanted to build a future with his family. Maybe a place where a Borchardt had already begun building the legacy of family medicine. “Having grown up not far from here, I was familiar with the community and their way of life. I thought Vernon fit my requirements for a small-town practice. It was the lifestyle, the education for my kids, and interests for my wife. It had everything we would need.”
Forty-five years later, he’s still practicing medicine in the quiet rural town and carrying on the traditions of the family doctors who came before him. Just like his uncle.
What kind of struggles did you face when you decided to open Hillcrest Clinic in Vernon all those years ago?
When I first came to Vernon, there were two other family physicians here. We decided to share ownership, so we went to the bank, signed the papers, got the money, and worked hard for a few years. Unfortunately, one of the members got into some trouble and ended up leaving the practice, but Dr. Combs and I took it up from there. Through the years, we have had several physicians who have practiced with us and we had enough space to lease out to specialists.
In the beginning, I was just afraid of going broke, but I had a wonderful mentor in my CPA. Once a month we would have lunch, he would lift me up and keep me going. That was a big motivating factor. The basic practice of medicine and caring for people is the same but the technology and the management part is harder than the actual practice of medicine. Know what you’re getting into, investigate where you’re going, and try to have a contact there who can give you the inside information.
What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had while caring for your patients?
I think the most interesting experiences have been my obstetric patients. It can be extremely exciting, and on the other hand it can be tragic, but for the most part it’s exciting. The moment of birth, new life, and being a part of someone’s life forever.
How do you navigate the more difficult experiences your patients are facing?
The first thing is patience and listening to see what the story is.
There is an older gentleman I just saw. His wife has Alzheimer’s disease. She struck him recently and now he has a large scar on his face. He realized it’s time to do something. So, we helped him make arrangements to get her into an Alzheimer’s unit. You listen and give compassion as they shed tears and let their emotions out.
What does legacy mean to you?
It means doing what you’re supposed to and taking care of people. And quiet honestly, during the time I was thinking of retiring, I realized I’d have to close my office here. Then Dr. Amechi-Obigwe came along and she offered to take it over. That was the fulfillment of my legacy.
How do you define leadership?
Being able to help people understand what you want to get done and motivating them to use their skills to help you do it.
What’s the most important quality a family physician should have?
Honesty, integrity, and work ethic. That’s what’s gotten me through the first 45 years. We’ll see from there.
What would you like to see happen in the future of health care and how do you think young physicians can help?
I would like to see the single payer system. Physicians need to get with organizations like TAFP to promote that and the things they believe in. That kind of connection will help them whether they’re in an urban area, rural area, or somewhere in between. I think organizations are the way you do it.
When I first got into TAFP, it was people who gave their time and energy to setting up the organization and becoming a part of it. I was on a couple of committees, like Rural Health, I really enjoyed it.
What do you enjoy doing during your down time?
I like to travel. Seeing things I haven’t seen and doing things I haven’t done. At this age, health issues are a factor, but I have been to Europe a couple of times. I ended up having a seizure in Spain and spent a few days in the hospital. Now my wife won’t let me go back. So now it’s traveling in the U.S. only.
I have been to all the major cities, San Francisco, Boston, New York, but I don’t think I have found my favorite yet. I like to see things. I am a walker. With walking you can stop, look around, and then go to the next thing you find interesting. I also love visiting museums.
When I’m home, my main interest is my dog, he walks with me.
Is there one lesson that your career taught you about people?
Before you say anything, listen. Just hear them out.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.