'Doc Hollywood' impacts the next generation

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- Dr. James Hotz, a general internist with Albany Area Primary Health Care, has been in Southwest Georgia for more than 30 years.

Since his time here, he has had a direct role in developing a primary health care system in this region of the state.

The impact was significant enough for someone to write a book on his experiences, eventually resulting in the 1991 film "Doc Hollywood" that starred Michael J. Fox.

Now, Hotz is having an impact on a new generation.

All four of Hotz's children are either practicing or studying medicine. His second-born, Jimmy Hotz, is about to enter into his final year of medical school at the Medical College of Georgia.

Having a doctor for a father and a paramedic instructor for a mother, Hotz seemed destined to pursue a career in health care himself.

"Growing up in the house, my mom and dad were in the medical field -- and they both seemed to like what they do," he said.

Hotz said he is considering a career in general internal medicine because of the greater long-term impact he would be able to have on a patient.

"I feel like you can be at the forefront of prevention before a disease can manifest itself," he said. "I feel like you can make a greater impact over the population."

The overall goal of his father's efforts, as the elder Hotz told The Herald in an interview late last year, was to construct a community health care system designed to take care of people who otherwise might not have convenient or efficient access to a doctor's office.

The younger Hotz also said he is likely to find himself in an area considered medically-underserved.

"After medical school, I'll look at Albany and see how it fits me," he said. "After my residency, I would like to go to an underserved area."

If not in Georgia, he will probably set roots in South Carolina -- where his fiancee is from, he said.

There is a shortage in primary care doctors in the region, which Hotz said is the result of medical students often being swayed into a sub-specialty.

"In the state in general, there is a great need for primary care physicians," he said. "There seems to be a disconnect with the medical students; they seemed to be swayed into sub-specialties. We are at the point where we need to create an incentive."

Census data has shown that Georgia ranks ninth in the nation in both population growth and physicians retained in the state after public undergraduate medical education. The state currently ranks 40th in the number of physicians per capita, the American Medical Association says.

While it is a fact that his father's story has caught the public eye, that was not a major deciding factor in Hotz's decision to become a physician himself.

"It (the 'Doc Hollywood' story) didn't have a negative impact, but there was a positive impact," he said. "If you read the story, you see a guy who sees what practicing medicine is about. It's not about the money, it's the people you can help.

"Going into the medical field was not pushed on us (the Hotz children). The four of us saw how my dad, after 30 years, still loved his job."

The physician-hopeful did a rotation from July to mid-August 2009 at the MCG School of Medicine's Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus, based at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. While working at the campus was a good experience overall, it is a big challenge just to get your foot in the door, Hotz said.

"It's a really hard area to get into; a lot of people want to go there," he said. "The preceptors are really good working with students."

Hotz said he was hopeful to do another rotation in Southwest Georgia, but he only managed to get the one. He has more rotations coming up for surgery and internal medicine in Augusta.

The Southwest Georgia campus recently obtained residential status, which means students will be able to relocate to the area for their last two years of medical school instead of only doing rotations four to six weeks at a time. In July, 17 third-year MCG students will be taking advantage of the opportunity.

Hotz's older brother is an intern with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System, his sister is in her first year at Mercer University School of Medicine and his youngest brother is currently studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Hotz's advice to other future physicians is to not lose sight of the bigger picture.

"Remember the reasons why you wanted to be a physician in the first place," he said. "You will have an impact in a positive way."