ALBANY — After more than four decades of getting to know, and taking care of, the Albany area community, family medicine physician Dr. Chappell Collins will step aside and retire from his medical career at the end of this month.
A week before his last day, plaques had already been taken down from his office walls at the 901 N. Madison St. practice he has been at for five years. One of the things that remained in his office was a walker, decorated in University of Georgia garb, that he received as a gift when he turned 80.
Now 81, a father and a grandfather, he is ready to start making the drive up more often up to Athens to visit Sanford Stadium. He will be able to do so after Friday, which is his final day on the job after 48 years.
Collins, who lives in Camilla, attended Mitchell County High School. He received a botany degree from UGA and served as a line officer on a destroyer ship during his time in the U.S. Navy. After his time in the military, he went to Auburn University to get the training necessary to become a teacher — making the Dean’s List.
He got a teaching job at Dougherty County High School and, after four months, decided teaching was not for him. His mother had two brothers who were doctors, and inspired by their their ability to work with people, he changed course and went in for an interview at the Medical College of Georgia at the age of 26.
After going back to UGA to complete some chemistry and physics courses he needed, he began his medical education — graduating in 1967. He completed his internship in Macon, where he became a father — and where he gave up his smoking habit.
Meanwhile, in his hometown, word got around that Collins’ internship was ending. He was asked to work at a clinic in Camilla, where he remained for four years. In 1972, he made the decision to practice in Albany — practicing solo until Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital took him on five years ago.
“I’m thankful Phoebe hired me,” he said.
Collins will be 82 in March, which is when his medical license is set to expire. Problems with his eyesight forced him to consider retirement sooner, so he decided to call it career now.
“The only thing I’ll regret is that I’ll miss my patients,” he said. “I feel like I am leaving a part of my family.
“One thing I am grateful for is the specialists I referred who helped me take care of my patients.”
Aside from UGA sporting events and spending time with out-of-town family members in Texas and Atlanta, Collins said he also intends to spend more time on his daylilies — a hobby he has maintained for some time.
He said he appreciated the relationships he was able to establish with his patients. He has very much liked interacting with his patient base, which he said has been loyal. When he’s been late to an appointment, it was usually because he was involved in a conversation with another patient.
Eventually, Collins came to find that a physical exam is sometimes not even needed if a doctor is willing to listen carefully enough. Apart from that connection, he continued to work because he felt he was still healthy enough to contribute something.
“I’m really going to miss them (the patients),” Collins said. “I’ve spent more time talking to them about what they are doing than actual doctoring.”
In his nearly five decades as a physician, Collins said he has seen health care become more splintered — resulting in weakened continuity. When he first started, there was one nurse who did everything needed to assist in a patient’s care. Now, there are three or four nurses involved in the care of one patient.
Also, Medicare and Medicaid did not exist when he was first getting started. When those sources of health care funding came along, he found his patient load in Camilla — due to its position in a rural community — getting significantly bigger, sometimes including people who were not sick.
Collins also noted that technology has changed significantly in his time as a doctor, advancements that impact everything down to the drawing of blood.
The l0ng-time physician says he has laughed with his patients and cried with them, and in doing so, he’s learned valuable lessons.
“Every one of us has worth, and we are all God’s creatures and all have our own personality and needs,” Collins said. “It makes it more fun to practice.
“You just have to treat everyone the same. I think that is why people have stayed with me all these years.”
Another observation Collins said he has had is that, instead of hanging out their shingle and hoping someone will walk in the door of their private practice, doctors these days are often more inclined to go into a hospital setting.
Working in a private practice can encourage a physician to build relationships and ask for help. For a physician in private practice, who has to be on call at the expense of night and weekend time with family members, sometimes help is needed from a colleague to make sure patient care is covered.
“It is tough on family life when you are in private practice,” he said. “Some doctors do it better than others.”
While he is spending more time with family, and catching up on activities outside of work, Collins said he feels confident he is leaving his patients in good hands.
He said he has tried to encourage his patients, many of whom rely on Medicare, to remain loyal to the practice.
“(Phoebe) will hire someone to replace me that will take care of my patients,” Collins said.
In the last few weeks, as word of his retirement has spread, many patients have come in to visit Collins one last time — some of whom have even shed a few tears.
“I just wish them all well, and I am looking forward to seeing them (out and about),” Collins said.
If it is anytime between September and March, and Collins cannot be found in Southwest Georgia, he advises seekers to check in Athens.