Family medicine is a lost art.
Just ask self-professed “old-school” practitioner Dr. Virgil Isaac Aultman.
The 72 year-old has hung up his stethoscope, but not before leaving a legacy of personable care behind.
“We spent time with our patients and made sure they had plenty of time to ask questions, that they understood what we wanted to do,” said Dr. Aultman from his now nearly empty office in Fondren. “It wasn’t a quick exam, prescription and ‘goodbye’ for us.”
Inspired by his childhood physician, Dr. Tyler, and later, medical school professors like Dr. Kenneth Bennett, Dr. Aultman saw bedside manner as paramount to quality care.
“Dr. Tyler was outstanding in his manner and personality,” Dr. Aultman recalled. “He was active in the community and went the extra mile for patients. I thought that would be a great way to live your life and decided to look into medicine because of him.”
Dr. Bennett, a cardiologist who still teaches at Dr. Aultman’s alma mater, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, was another big influence.
“He emphasized the bed side diagnosis rather than machines and testing,” Aultman explained. “A lot [of what ails us] can be diagnosed without too much fuss.”
A Seminary native who grew up on a farm, Dr. Aultman shouldn’t have been a physician. “I didn’t think I was a good enough student,” he laughed. “I played football, ran track and worked on the farm and put studying behind all that. Once I got into college and got serious [for the first time in my life], I thought, ‘maybe I could get into medical school.’”
A 1971 graduate of UMMC, Dr. Aultman completed his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. He returned to the state to practice in Union, Miss. for a year and taught for a short time after. Dr. Aultman‘s career spanned over four decades, the last 28 of those in Fondren.
On January 1, 1989, Dr. Aultman opened the doors of his Fondren office, taking over the practice and 1950’s modern building of Dr. Frank Wood. “It was interesting,” Dr. Aultman recalled of the dÃ©cor. “Dr. Wood had been here three decades and hadn’t redecorated. My longtime nurse (Billie Welch) nearly cried when she saw where we moving to. I promised we’d spiff up and we did with new paint and new lighting.”
Dr. Aultman’s choice of location, next to what became Cups, an espresso cafÃ© on Old Canton Road, was questioned by his friends, too.
“They wondered about the future of Fondren. It was a somewhat depressed area,” he said of the vacant buildings and a lack of a central driving force back in those days. “I got a good buy on this building for that reason. And needless to say, we ended up being very pleased with our choice to move here,” he explained of the vibrant neighborhood right outside his front door.
While Dr. Aultman retired in December, he’s still in the office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day, culling through mementos and liquidating office fixtures. Waiting room furniture went to their church, an exam table to a Honduras mission. His office still gets calls to transfer records, “the most important thing we have to do,” he said.
Leigh Grady, who began seeing Dr. Aultman two decades ago, said he was always right. “Whatever he suggested, I would do — and it would fix me right up,” she explained. “He always called for lifestyle changes before medication.”
“Has he mentioned his ‘No’ list?” his wife – and office manager of ten years – Â Rachael Aultman, asked from his office doorway.
“Patients would ask what they could eat or how to lose weight,” Dr. Aultman explained. “So I finally made list.”
Rachael chimed in, “If it’s white, don’t bite,” referring to breads, cereals, donuts, cookies, fried potatoes and the like, all on his list of forbidden foods.
No butter? “You double the calories,” he told. What do you substitute? “Eat it plain,” he said.
“People would come out of his office with [a no list] and I’d say, ‘You got the no list?’” Rachael remembered. “Everyone in the waiting room would say, ‘I got one, too!’”
“I preached good health, with an emphasis on preventative maintenance,” Dr. Aultman added. “Exercise, proper diet, weight control, not smoking and so forth, trying to keep folks from getting sick to start with.”
Dr. Aultman has taken his calling to heart, treating his patients like family. “There’s nothing other than being a preacher that allows you to get to know as much about the people you take care of,” he says. “It’s been a great honor to be able to do that and have patients trust you and know you’re going to be empathetic. If done properly, it’s one of the highest callings in life.”
“When they were in hospital, they wanted to see him come through,” Rachael said of her husband. “He could make them feel better just by telling them ‘You’ll be fine.’”