After 31 years of practicing medicine in Sikeston, Dr. John Askew is hanging up his stethoscope. Oct. 28 was Askew's last day of practicing medicine.
"I think it's time," he said. "My wife and I have made sure our kids are well-
educated and they're all actively involved in their own jobs." One son went into law, another is a cardiologist and the third is a hunting guide for everything from local hunts to African safaris.
For both patients and peers, Askew's retirement was unexpected.
"I was surprised to hear of his retirement," said Dr. William Shell, Askew's friend and colleague for over 31 years. "It just wasn't something any of us were thinking about even though it's something a lot of us will eventually do."
When it comes to retiring from medicine after nearly 35 years in the business, "there's no easy way to do that," Askew said. "I've done this forever."
Having partners he trusts does make it somewhat easier, however. "It makes me not worry about the quality and availability of medical care for my patients," he said, as it alleviates concerns about "being able to bow out gracefully. If I were in practice by myself, it would be much more difficult."
Patients have received a letter from FMG advising of Askew's retirement and offering to transfer them to another physician.
Askew said his former patients have met the group's other doctors and have even been treated by them on occasion which should ease the transition. As FMG physicians all practice medicine in a similar style, "I think people will be comfortable with it," he said.
Some in the community may speculate on what the "real" reason for his abrupt retirement was but Askew said there was no conflict with his partners or FMG administration, he was simply ready to retire.
Kelley J. Rushing, FMG's chief executive officer, recalled when Askew decided to stop doing hospital work and focus only on outpatient medicine in 2001 many of his patients didn't want to let go.
"They would ask, 'Can't you please just keep taking care of me?'" Rushing said. "It took a toll on him, those people trying to talk him out of it."
Shell noted that Askew "may be a little rough on the outside, but isn't really. He is very compassionate and caring of his patients."
Rushing agreed: "Contrary to his gruff nature on the outside, he's a very sensitive and compassionate man." At the same time, when things get rough, "he's the guy you'd want to be in a foxhole with."
Dr. Gordon Jones, who has worked side-by-side with Askew for 20 years, described Askew as a "caring, concerned physician who always wanted to get it right."
Jones remembers him as the physician who OBs in town could always come to for help even after Askew stopped doing deliveries as well as one who "goes to extremes to make sure his patients get the right care."
"It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked for him," said Kaye Lange, Askew's nurse. "As rough, gruff, stubborn and obstinate as he is, I've never seen or worked with a doctor more dedicated and compassionate toward patient care than Dr. John Askew."
Askew said he is happy he chose the rural medicine path over a practice in a big city.
"I have regrets I didn't come here sooner," he said. "I like the individual patient care - taking care of people you know and like."
Askew moved to Sikeston with Dr. Ed Masters in 1974 after almost three years of practicing in Advance with Masters.
"We decided to join a group practice to be able to concentrate on patient care, not running a business," he recalled. "At that time, we were on the medical staff of Southeast Hospital but decided to come to Sikeston rather that Cape primarily because of the quality of the physicians at Ferguson Medical Group and the camaraderie of the group."
In addition to having better facilities than they had in Advance, Sikeston had a top-notch staff of surgeons and specialists including "the best pediatricians I've known," Askew said. "This place had excellent medical care even back then."
Askew said he attributes the caliber of physicians in Sikeston to a nucleus of talented doctors from the area who decided to return and practice medicine here which in turn attracted other physicians to the area. "Quality tends to breed quality," Rushing said. "He really is one of the pillars that Missouri Delta Medical Center was built upon."
When Askew first came to Sikeston, he found himself at MDMC about every third night. With no dedicated emergency room staff, Askew also had to pull ER duty every 10 days or so. "More nights than I care to remember were spent at the hospital," Askew said.
"I've enjoyed medicine," Askew continued. "I especially enjoyed the obstetrics part - that was the best part of medicine."
While there are many aspects Askew won't miss, such as paperwork, "I will miss the satisfaction of seeing people get well and/or being able to help them stabilize their chronic illnesses. I will miss the interaction with my patients. Many of the children I delivered I have watched grow up and start their own families. When you take care of the same people for 30-plus years, they are friends, not just patients."
Askew said his one regret "is that my three boys' memory of those early years is that I seemed to be 'gone to work' much of the time. I wish I could have some of those hours back.
"Retirement will give me the opportunity to pursue those interests and activities that I've not had time for in the past," he added.
While Askew will not be back to practice medicine or take any immediate formal administrative positions with FMG, Rushing said he intends to call on his expertise from time to time for things like recruiting and project committees.
"He's going to be available to us to participate in things like that," Rushing said.