Hughes bids farewell

Many appointments for Dr. Bob Hughes at Village Medical Primary Care in the past several weeks have included photograph opportunities with his patients wishing to share a final moment with him as their physician. Here is such an image, showing Hughes, left, with Helen Perry, middle, and her daughter, Ruthie, both patients for a number of years.

MURRAY — Today will mark the end of one chapter in the career of longtime Murray physician Dr. Bob Hughes. 

At the end of his work day will be the finish line of a career that has spanned  about 38 years of caring for patients on an up-close basis. The majority of those were seen at the Village Medical primary Care (formerly Primary Care Medical Center) practice he founded in January 1994. 

Come Thursday, he will immediately move into the next chapter, as national clinical director of rural health for VillageMD.

“I’ll be one of six national clinical directors and this will go roughly from Nevada to Rhode Island and everything in between that has to do with rural health,” Hughes said Tuesday in advance of today’s swan song at Village Medical Primary Care, which will come at the end of an emotional last few weeks with his patients.

“That’s going to be a big change because of the medicine that I saw growing up in (his native hometown) Prestonsburg (in the eastern part of Kentucky) and I saw people like Dr. Charles Clark before me here. They went daylight to dark with people all day long and that’s what I’ve done basically my whole career. That seems a bit old-fashioned these days, but that’s the way I’ve always done it.

“And there have been people with me the entire time I’ve been in Murray and I’m going to miss seeing them and having that doctor-patient relationship. Also, there have been some employees that have been with me 30-plus years, specifically (his nurse) Melissa Allen. I mean, that’s hard!”

Hughes said several patients have presented him gift baskets the past several weeks after he sent a letter to all of his patients announcing his forthcoming departure. 

“I’ve probably had 500 notes  or messages of some sort or another sent to me. I’ve also had some (patients) cry. It’s been an interesting experience,” he said. “I never thought I’d see so many nice things said.

“Literally, in about 38 years of clinical practice, I’ve seen probably north of 350,000 patients. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ve seen that many people. I’ve been trying to come up with a number and probably a third of them have been new patients, but it just goes back to the the fact that I was available and I’ve always heard that the most important thing about medicine is availability and the second-most important is affordability.”

Hughes said that, until December, when he had to miss two weeks of work because of a positive COVID-19 test that is believed to have stemmed from performing tests himself and eventually being exposed to positive patients, that marked the first time in his career that he has missed a day of work in his career. He said that comes naturally.

“People may see me sign my name ‘Dr. Robert Curtis Hughes.’ The Curtis is for my grandfather and I put that on there to honor him because he worked in 30 inches of coal and 6 inches of water lying on his side with a pick ax, digging coal,” Hughes said. “Now, my dad was a dime-store manager for 28 years and the most he ever missed was a half-day’s work when a squirrel bit through his thumb while he was squirrel hunting.

“I guess I’m blessed that I don’t need much sleep. I get about five hours, which means I can put in a lot of extra hours in the day.”

Hughes said everyday operations of the practice are not expected to change, at least when it comes to what patients see. Behind the scenes, he said his role as medical director will be shared among the remaining physicians, including his wife, Dr. Joyce Hughes, who is a pediatrician.

He said VillageMD, with whom Hughes has had a close relationship since 2017 when Primary Care Medical Center became VillageMD’s first practice in Kentucky and one of its first three or four market places. Now, VillageMD has expanded and serves about 16 states and handles health-care needs for 1.26 million patients.

Hughes said that, as his career continued, the idea of this kind of opportunity being possible became more likely. Then, late last year, talks began between Hughes and VillageMD officials about this opportunity. He said he met with the two main founders of the VillageMD  concept in Atlanta, Georgia that sealed the deal.

“They said, ‘Does this stimulate you?’ I said it did,” Hughes said of the extension of the job offer, adding that VillageMD’s philosophy on rural health care is something in which he believes heavily. “More importantly, we’re looking for ways to improve the delivery of health care, especially in rural America, because there are unique challenges that rural America has that are not necessarily so in urban areas. Some of that will be through innovative technology and some through other processes that are designed to help take care of those people better.

“I’ve seen a lot of people over the years and I’ve been on a lot boards as well, so I think I can bring that expertise to help as well.”

Hughes said he will remain as chief medical officer at Murray State University, where Village Medical Primary Care is in charge of the university’s Student Health Services practice. Hughes was instrumental in helping Murray State be one of only two statewide colleges and universities that managed to keep students on their campuses despite the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020-21 academic year.