Retired physician lends hand to health education project

By Emily Ulber

After working for more than 35 years as a general practitioner in Bowling Green, Dr. Carroll Brooks says he has lived his life with medicine.

“I look back on it and it seems like three or four days,” said Dr. Brooks, who retired about 16 years ago. “And I must confess, I still miss it, but you get old and it’s time to get out of the way and let some youngsters do it.”

And now, Dr. Brooks is doing just that: occasionally helping out with a project that brings WKU nursing students and family practice residents from the University of Louisville to an Old Order Mennonite community in Allen County.

The Cross Culture Communication in a Mennonite Community project was established by Dr. Susan Jones of WKU’s Department of Nursing, said Lucy Juett, director of the South Central Area Health Education Center. AHEC provides the UofL residents for the project.

Once a month, a small group will visit the community. First, they give a health education program on a topic of the community’s choosing — anything from arthritis to heart disease to CPR. Then, the Mennonites have the opportunity to have their health screened and visit a primary clinic run by the family practice resident, who is supervised by either Dr. Brooks or a professor from UofL.

“I’ve been there long enough that [the community members] know me and kind of come to me, and what I try to do is to guide them to the resident, because that’s what’s the program is all about,” Dr. Brooks said. “It’s part of his or her training, and my job is to supervise them and see how well they approach a patient, and how they do the history and the physical exam.”

Sometimes, Dr. Brooks will just listen and watch. Other times, he will need to step in a bit more.

“They’re very well-educated, that’s not a problem, but some of them don’t have the approach to the patients — they’re not quite as outgoing as others,” he said of the residents he works with. “And some of them jump on it right away. It’s probably a personality difference more than an educational one.”

Dr. Brooks, who has helped out with the program for about five years, said he enjoys watching new students and residents interact with those in the Mennonite community.

“They have to know how to treat a patient who might be in their office, where they have things, but then when they go home, they don’t even have plumbing or electricity,” Dr. Brooks said. “So you have to keep that in mind, because if you tell them they have to use a hot compress every so often, you have to realize what it takes for them to do that.”

But the extra work does not come without a reward.

“I think the biggest benefit for [the students] is to see that there are other cultures out there,” he said. “When a person gets sick, you not only have to take care of them, but you have to realize their background and their culture.”

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