Member of the Month: Timothy Martindale, MD
Solo family physician draws inspiration from careers as preacher, journalist
By Kate Alfano
Timothy Martindale, MD, is a solo family physician and owner of Martindale Family Medicine Clinic, where he sees patients with the help of a nurse practitioner. He is a tremendous positive influence on his colleagues, patients and the public at large, using his skills in ministry and writing to inspire and inform. He completed a family medicine residency at Waco Family Medicine Residency Program and was awarded his medical degree by the University of Texas Medical Branch. He received a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, completed graduate school in speech and organizational communication, and completed post-graduate studies in classics: classical and Koine Greek, and New and Old Testament studies.
Who or what inspired you to become a physician?
I grew up as the son of a preacher in Houston, and my parents knew and supported numerous missionaries. I met Dr. Frank Kollinger when I was 8 or 9; he was a family physician serving in Quito, Ecuador. I decided I wanted to support him; I became a paperboy for the Houston Chronicle, and I used that money to send support to Dr. Kollinger for years. He would visit our home and send me letters about his practice in Ecuador, and I developed a desire to do what he did. When I got to college, I started as pre-med, but then set it aside because of my commitment to the church, and desire to put that first. In my mid 30s, my wife suggested I go back to my first love and go to medical school.
Can you briefly describe your career path?
I was serving as worship leader of a Bible church in Austin when I was ordained as a pastor in 1981, where I served for eight years. In 1989, I took a sabbatical, and having a background and degree in journalism, I worked as a publications director for a national association of churches, where I edited an evangelical magazine and wrote celebrity profile cover stories in the Washington, DC area. In 1991, I returned to Austin, where I worked as a music minister while taking pre-med courses, then started medical school at UTMB Galveston in summer 1992.
In medical school, I led the Family Practice Student Association, won AAFP’s national leadership award and UTMB’s community service award, and served as class president my junior and senior years. Upon graduation, I trained at Waco’s Family Medicine Residency Program, serving as chief resident and graduating in 1996. I started out in a solo practice in Lorena affiliated with Waco’s Providence Hospital in 1999 (practicing at both Providence and Hillcrest Baptist Hospital), including obstetrics in my practice the beginning years.
In 2004, I bought a building near Providence in Waco, and continued a busy hospital, nursing home and clinic practice until 2017 when a heart attack forced me to focus on just my clinic practice. During those years, I served as president of Providence’s medical staff, chairman of their family medicine department, president of the medical society 2008 and 2016, president of the Central Texas Chapter of TAFP, the board of Waco’s residency program, Texas Medical Association delegate, and was awarded McLennan County’s Gold-Headed Cane in 2018. In September 2018, I bought out my practice from Ascension Providence and became an independent solo family physician in my same building. I brought in a nurse practitioner to work alongside me in 2019.
What unique challenges are represented in your patient community?
Waco has a strong component of poverty. Our local FQHC, the Family Health Center, where the residency is also located, serves 40,000 patients of the uninsured and government insured, yet there is still much work to be done by everyone in the medical community in partnership.
What brings you joy in your work? As a teen, I had an experience on a train ride through Mexico where, at each stop, I looked through the window at many eyes of the poor living in abandoned railroad cars. They crowded around the train hoping for gifts to be thrown. It struck me that every set of eyes represented a real, wonderful, genuine universe to be explored. I have never forgotten my desire to explore as many human universes as possible, and I am overcome daily with joy that I get to explore and better each person’s universe as they give me the amazing privilege of access. I get to use all my talents, education, skill, experience, creativity, instinct and diligence to make their universe a better place, and I can think of no bigger source of joy.
What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
First is I love to spend time with my family. Though now my children and their families are scattered across the country, we talk and FaceTime daily. I love to communicate and influence. One way I do that is television and newspaper interviews constantly on medical topics, which means I have to keep up with and be aware of each medical issue to always be ready as reporters text or drop by on a moment’s notice. I've now done thousands of interviews and stories over the years. I also work creatively and diligently with social media, making creative, positive, informative posts that have gained a strong following. I am a voracious reader and have thousands of books in my home. I love to walk, whether on a treadmill at home during regular days or on walking trails in national, state and local parks. I have three books I’m writing that I’ll never finish, but I think about them a lot and add to them periodically.
As a former pastor and journalist, do you have any reflections or inspirational words for your fellow physicians given the current environment (challenges from divisive politics, the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout and/or racial inequity to name a few)?
When there is fear about the virus, and a world split up about politics, or race or moral issues, I feel my job as a physician is to be known for my caring for every person without qualification, and make sure they can trust what I say as all I care about is teaching them and being alongside them for their physical and emotional health. As a former pastor, I set aside other motivations as subservient to helping people have a faith that enabled them; as a journalist, my job was to highlight truth accurately without anyone knowing my personal opinion or interests. When no one knows who to believe due to vested interests, people should be able to trust their physician in leading them to truth about how to experience the best life and health possible.
What other advice would you share with your colleagues?
As physicians, we need to be visionaries who never forget the big picture. We should not be stuck in a rut trying to see lots of patients and check lots of boxes that we forget why we chose this profession. We wanted to heal people, to enable human beings to maximize their usefulness and experience, to lead communities to good habits and healthy lifestyles. We should understand the perspectives of insurers, employers, and government while we help the individual. We are most equipped and positioned to be the advocate for patients and achieve a balance of all the affecting forces in medicine. I also find it important that physicians need to be leaders in their own office, shaping a positive culture where their employee team feels a part of the medical vision, and well taken care of.
One other thing: In times of COVID, I believe independent physicians should step up courageously, though safely, to help patients understand and have access to testing, treatment and coaching through the crisis of COVID. While I don’t allow infection symptoms inside my clinic, my nurse practitioner and I do telemedicine with anyone who is sick each day, then I examine, test and treat them (dressed in thorough PPE) at the end of the day in my parking lot clinic. Our patients need instruction, testing and treatment, and hope from us.
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.