Robert C. DeLuca, DO, FACOFP dist
Why I Chose Family Medicine, the Early Years & a Bit on Leadership and Involvement - An Interview with Robert C. DeLuca, DO, FACOFP dist
Kris Beavers, Executive Director, Texas ACOFP
Several weeks ago I had the tremendous pleasure of interviewing Robert DeLuca, D.O., FACOFP dist, a mentor and friend to so many of us.
He’s a long-time member of Texas ACOFP (since TCOM bowling alley days) and a Past President of both state and national ACOFP. And in addition to my own curiosity on the subjects we covered, I wanted to ask some of the most frequent questions I get from our COM students, residents and new physicians.
Kris: So, tell me what led you to osteopathic family medicine?
Dr. DeLuca: Those folks drawn to family medicine will tell you it’s a calling, where your heart, soul and mind are happy. But it's not for everyone, others may want to specialize.
I started back in the 70's (when there was only one college of osteopathic medicine) and applied to several MD schools but didn't get in. I moved away to TCU and was teaching microbiology to nurses. A student came up and asked if I'd thought about med school. Her husband was and D.O. and that raised my interest.
I interviewed at TCOM (bowling alley), the students there were happy, engaged, excited and I thought, "Oh, these are my kind of people!" I was a first alternate but didn't get in, so I moved to Arkansas, worked for Baxter Travenol.
One of my co-worker’s father-in-law, Dr. Robert Eggert came to visit from Tulsa. He was a DO. radiologist. We had several discussions about medical school and he encouraged me to apply. This led me back to Texas and I re-interviewed at TCOM. During one of my interviews, with a physician professor, I was asked several questions about medicine I could not answer. I felt the interview was going poorly. Then, the physician noticed my letter or recommendation from Dr. Eggert. He asked if I knew Dr. Eggert well, and I replied, “Yes.” He said, “Well, if he recommends you, so do I.” (It turned out they were classmates from the Ohio Osteopathic School. Small world).
Kris: And a little about your practice, how did you come to settle in Eastland?
Dr. DeLuca: I started school and felt really connected, like a family – ‘part of the fold’. So the idea of anything besides family/general practice didn’t occur to me.
I interned at Oklahoma City Hospital, student elective rotations had full run of the hospital (including OB). I learned a lot by the time I left. I went to Euless, Texas to practice with the doctor who had been my physician during medical school. Was there six months but it just wasn't what I wanted. I wanted rural rather than city practice.
I looked around at several rural location, had lots of offers to set up a practice but eventually, my classmate Sandy Hazelip, DO called me to her practice in Eastland. I moved there and went into partnership. And after twenty-five years together, she retired from general practice and concentrated on geriatric medicine.
Kris: What are some of the things you learned about being a business owner and new physician those first few years?
Dr. DeLuca: Setting up your own practice was easier back then. You only needed pen, paper and stethoscope. We started with pegboard billing and in 1991 got computers. You come because you want to. You stay because of the difference you make. When a student asked Jim Froelich, DO, FACOFP (classmate), “why do you stay? Why do you do this?" He said, “You know, every day I get to practice osteopathic medicine is another day I get to do the Lord’s work.” I think it’s the way most of us feel.
Being younger, starting practice takes a lot more money and equipment these days (expensive computers, finding local people to come work). I started and grew with the practice. Eventually we got into Medicare, Medicaid then commercial insurance. Staff didn’t know how – they just dove in and figured it out. Now, you have to really know about all that before beginning to see patients.
Family Medicine is also the only profession that allows practice of multiple disciplines. I started going to sports games, sitting on the sidelines, practicing sports medicine. That community and family involvement helped boost the practice, our visibility. Soon, parents started bringing their kids to us. This is also where ER exposure can help. And where you can admit your patients to the hospital, provide continuity of care. If you want that, it's in family medicine.
Rural areas are going to recruit you. They're starting to open clinic and want to hire physicians. Some will help you set up your own practice. I advise you to have control over that. For example, how fast you see patients, your call schedule and how often, hospital admitting privilege, ER. How much input you have on running the practice. Otherwise it's easy to lose the luster of being in practice. So talk with professionals who know these contracts (help is available through ACOFP, TOMA to find good lawyers who know).
Kris: What impact has being a member of both state and national ACOFP had on you as an individual? As a physician?
Dr. DeLuca: I had already been in business world before medical school, so I was attracted to student politics. I became class president of TCOM; got engaged in politics, activities of the school, then became student body president. Attended AOA House of Delegates with Elizabeth Palmarozzi (DO, FACOFP, current Speaker, ACOFP Congress of Delegates). We were among the first students to vote at the AOA . I saw the camaraderie there, and of making a difference in the profession.
Kris: What are some of your favorite experiences serving the ACOFP Board? Things you were able to see change and progress in during your time there?
Dr. DeLuca: [After school] went on, had children and started attending the TOMA conventions, seeing people you know. Then (1990s), after seven - eight years practice, I started going to national ACOFP, Congress of Delegates. Leadership said, "Hey we’d like you to be on the Board". Rodney (Wiseman, DO, FACOFP dist) helped shepherd me. I became program chair for the 2006 ACOFP Convention in Grapevine. Spent four years working it top to bottom, raising grants for the convention. Other Board members saw, said “wow, great convention, student involvement". Jim (Froelich, DO, FACOFP) asked if I was still interested in the Board (2010/2011). Talked it over with Val (wife, Valerie DeLuca, DO) she said, "Yes – go!" Next year, got on the Board, became President in 2019.
If a person wants to serve and sets out to do a job, do not have an agenda. Serve with the right motive and you’ll make a good leader. Then you’ll be in the right place at the right time. But if you set your agenda, you won’t be able to hear the other person. What they want. That’s what makes better leaders – your desire to serve.
During my ACOFP Presidency, things were at odds with AOA and others. Then the ACGME merger made it apparent that groups needed to work together. I felt we all had to work together. Soon, individuals and groups came together and worked to make the necessary changes. We were able to increase our involvement. We couldn’t just sit back on all this, saying, ‘it's how we've always done things’. That mind set brings an organization down.
Right now, we need vitality – a shot in the arm. Students aren’t joining any more unless they WANT to. Our organization needs to give them something they can’t get elsewhere and we have to look at that. ACOFP is undergoing huge change. We've hired a person to see how we compare with other organizations. We want people to look at our Board, see themselves and think, Okay, maybe I'll come on the Board too. Try it out, see if it works and if not, step down. Maybe take a time out and come back when it's right. Make a difference.