1946 ~ 1994
John Bridgers' medical career spanned from 1946 when he entered the Duke University School of Medicine until 1994 when he retired as Medical Director of the Burdette-Tomlin Memorial Hospital in Cape May, New Jersey. Included in those 48 years of medical practice were stints of military service, academic work, private practice and hospital administration. Much as Jigs' believes his childhood and Naval service were "charmed," the same could be said for his medical career.
When he graduated from college in 1941, the economic realities of the lingering depression seemed to preclude any possibility for further education especially medical school. World War II changed all of that, the G.I. Bill filling the nation's universities and colleges with returning veterans looking to further their lot in life.
For Jigs this was the opportunity to attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina -- one of the leading academic and medical schools in the country. Concerned at first over the adequacy of his earlier undergraduate education at a small rural "teaching" college, he found himself to be one of the top students in his class completing his medical studies in just three years,
Longing to once again fly airplanes, Jigs returned to the Navy Reserve as a Lt. (JG) first to intern at the Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts and later to qualify as a Flight Surgeon. An added benefit, in addition to flying, was that his Navy salary of almost $500 per month plus a housing allowance went considerably further towards supporting a growing family than did the typical intern's salary in the civilian world.
With the start of the Korean War, he re-qualified as a pilot and was assigned to VX-3, an experimental squadron stationed at The Naval Air Station in Pomona, New Jersey. While in New Jersey he shared duties with other medical staff for the care and well-being of all those stationed at the base and their dependents. From this experience Jigs developed an interest in Pediatrics.
While at Pomona, children with serious illness were transferred for treatment to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's "contagious diseases" facility in Camden, New Jersey. At the end of the Korean War, Jigs had decided on pediatrics as his specialty and applied for a position as a pediatric resident to Children's -- one of the premier pediatric programs in the U.S. He was accepted in 1954 and, after only his first year, was named Assistant Chief Resident.
This assignment began his working relationship with Dr. Joseph Stokes, Dean of Pediatrics. At Dr. Stokes' invitation, Jigs stayed on with Children's after completing his residency eventually becoming Director of The Out-Patient Department and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania as well as working with Dr. Stokes in his private practice.
After Dr. Stokes retirement in 1961, Jigs decided to return to his native North Carolina where Dr. John Lynch, a childhood family friend, invited him to join with Dr. Lynch and Dr. Kenneth Geddie at The Infant and Child Clinic in High Point. Several years later, Dr. William Michael would join the three of them at "The Clinic" -- as it was known to family and friends - and who would maintain the practice after all of their retirements.
While at Children's, Jigs had developed an interest in learning disabilities and developmental disorders. In the early 1960's such disorders were not considered a specialty and there were few doctors in North Carolina dealing with these issues. With the help of the state and county, Jigs started the Developmental Evaluation Clinic in High Point for the diagnosis of children with emotional and/or mental handicaps. This clinic, now part of Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, evaluated children prior to their entering the High Point Kindergarten for the Handicapped, another pilot program.
During these years in private practice, Jigs also taught for a short while at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and later served as a member of the Board of Trustees at East Carolina University participating in the establishment of a medical school at his alma mater. He was also actively involved in the medical operations at High Point Memorial Hospital and found himself intrigued with the issues of hospital administration.
In 1983, Jigs retired from private practice and accepted a position with The Joint Committee for the Accreditation of Hospitals. In this role, he and Edie traveled throughout the country for almost three years until he was offered a position as the first Medical Director for the Burdette-Tomlin Hospital in Cape May, New Jersey where he closed out his medical career in 1994. The following are a collection of stories, ruminations and vignettes from these years.
Duke University, its medical faculty and Jigs' experiences in medical school provide the subject matter for Bull Durham, Prophesy, Hand In Glove, Jock Doc, and The Last Possum.
Just Us Chickens, Purpose Night, Big Feet and Weak Eyes and Finally in Mufti are stories from Jigs' return years in the Navy.
Parts of the earlier Big Feet and Weak Eyes as well as Ecology and Monkey Business find their source and inspiration from Jigs' years at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
That's The Point, The Spaghetti Shaman, In On The Action, A One-Time Angel, First And Last Aid, A Novel Dime, A Half-Step Ahead, and The Bone Setter are anecdotes from Jigs' private practice in North Carolina.
The Blue Jeans brings us full circle to the start of the medical career of Jigs' son, Sam.
My father's medical practice colored the lives of our entire family with some of our earliest childhood memories being of Sunday afternoons at Children's followed by visits to the Franklin Institute. As we kids grew we were naturally segregated into two groups with the oldest, Jock and Sam, allowed to go their way while we next three - Carl, Raymond and Barbara -- spent many an hour accompanying our father to "The Clinic" and observing him in action in the local hospital's emergency room. Other memories include the "on-call" phone ringing at all hours of the night and one morning awakening to a new puppy after a late-night house-call.
Jigs has mentioned that as he grows older he finds memories of his Navy experiences eclipsing those of his medical career but for his children and his patients he will always be remembered as "Dr. Bridgers."
July 4, 2002
July 4, 2002