ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
For the past 20 years, family-practice physician A. Randal Claassen has funneled two interests into practicing medicine in Hillsboro.
In addition to a fascination with the sciences, he has a calling to help others.
“Medicine is the juncture of my interests,” he said. “I always knew I was going to do something in science, chemistry or biology, and I had a desire to be a servant of people. As a physician, I felt I could do both.”
In August, Claassen celebrated his 20th anniversary with the Hillsboro Family Practice Clinic Preferred Medical Associates group.
“It seems like it went by real fast,” Claassen said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been 20 years, but a lot of things have happened in that time.”
Claassen was raised in Rose Hill, on a small farm east of Wichita. He graduated from Rose Hill High School in 1973. Two years later, he earned an associate’s degree in pre-medicine from Central College in McPherson.
Majoring in chemistry, he graduated from Bethany Nazarene College in Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1981 and completed a family-practice residency in 1984.
“Family practice is relatively new,” Claassen said about a specialty that emerged in the last 30 years.
“A family physician is a specialist in a broad range of things. He has as much specialty training as an internal-medicine doctor. Family practice has kind of taken over what the general practitioner used to do.”
After completing his residency, Claassen and wife Janice searched for a practice in a small town with similar values and religious affiliations of his youth.
An opportunity to partner with Hillsboro physician Richard Klaassen seemed to be the right fit in 1984.
“I joined without any guarantees,” Claassen said.
“Now days, nobody will even consider joining a practice without any guarantees. The only guarantee was he would pay my office expenses for a couple of months. And I had to build my patients from there.”
His practice today includes a staff of 11, including four who have been with him almost from the beginning.
Office manager Judy Jantz has been with the group for 21 years; Donna Hamm, with insurance, for 20 years; Helen Hagen, licensed practical nurse, for 20 years; and Cheryl Bartel, registered nurse, for 19 years.
And why have these staff members stayed with him so long?
“I think the main issue is to treat your staff with respect,” Claassen said. “Let them be their own people, have ownership for their actions.”
The current staff includes family practitioner Lorrie L. Campbell and family nurse practitioner Melissa Batterton.
As a young physician with partner Klaassen, Claassen saw about two patients a day. Today, his daily workload includes 25 to 30 patients a day.
Over the past two decades, Claassen has seen many changes.
“The change in technology in general in medicine-the diagnostic tests and the cost in medical care-has gone up dramatically,” Claassen said.
But the biggest change and biggest milestone of his practice was joining the Wichita Via Christi Preferred Medical Associates’ management team in 1998.
“I feel good about the practice and the arrangements we made with Via Christi,” Claassen said.
As part of the PMA group, Claassen and about 50 other physicians currently rely on a partnership with Via Christi.
“There’s financial expertise, budget planning, their computers, it’s a huge thing,” Claassen said.
Office manager Jantz can now network with Via Christi management experts, and the PMA affiliation provides accounting, computer help and even maintenance personnel.
In recent developments, Via Christi purchased a multi-million-dollar software package to convert the entire hospital system.
“They also purchased the out-patient component of that for PMA,” Claassen said.
“So we’re going to be tagging on to that in the future. This thing is almost like artificial intelligence. The data network and the flow of information is just dramatically improved. It improves the way we do business.”
If Claassen refers a patient to a PMA specialist in Wichita, that physician has immediate access to Claassen’s lab information and notes.
“But the other thing, from a pure financial standpoint, there’s no way we could afford this,” Claassen said. “It’s just impossible. It’s just too expensive. But, when you correlate with a whole bunch of doctors, it’s much more affordable. It’s prorated out over several divisions.”
Others have joined the practice and left over the years, such as physicians Stan Crown, Nate Loewen and Gloria Witt.
The reasons for turnover in physicians varied, but they were valid reasons that made sense to him, Claassen said.
One major problem for a small-town physician is the difficulty dealing with the constant demands on his or her time.
“It’s the call,” Claassen said.
Claassen and Campbell are on call every other weekend and cover the emergency room 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Usually, in a bigger city, even in Newton, a group of physicians share call,” Claassen said.
“Anybody comes in to the emergency room, we have to see them. And that’s a stress. Not many people are willing to do that their whole life.”
When he does have free time, Claassen said he enjoys his hobbies, such as bicycling, reading, wind surfing, woodworking and welding.
Wife Janice is a foster mother paid by the state, and the couple have seven children, four of them are adopted.
“Family is very important to me,” Claassen said.
In addition to his regular duties, Claassen is chief of staff at Hillsboro Community Medical Center, Marion County EMS medical director, active in Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church, team physician for Hillsboro High School and Tabor College, associate professor of KU School of Medicine and was named Kansas EMS Physician of the Year in 2002.
Offering additional services to his patients, Claassen became certified 15 years ago to perform colonoscopies to explore the colon and EGDs. EGD refers to esopagogastroduodenoscopy, a procedure to evaluate stomach problems.
Three years ago, he became certified to offer sclerotherapy, treating spider and varicose veins, a procedure Claassen said he enjoys performing.
Although he still delivers babies, Claasen said the majority of today’s women are requesting epidurals. “And we don’t do that here,” he said. “So, they go out of town.”
Among the many rewards in his practice, the one that stands out above the others is the opportunity to know his patients.
“The biggest reward is the chance I have to be very close to my patients,” Claassen said.
“It’s difficult when one of them dies. It’s like losing a loved one. In fact, I think of my patients as family and not as patients.”
Looking back over the past 20 years, he appreciates the trust the area has put in him, Claassen said.
“We strive for quality care here, and we want to thank our patients for their support.”