Dr. Al Southall, III is the quintessential “country doctor,” whom several generations of families have come to
depend on for their health care needs since 1983.
His easy temperament, willingness to listen and deep understanding of a rural community’s health care needs are what makes this family physician so special to his patients and the community.
The Louisa County Chamber of Commerce honored Southall on March 29, naming him Business Person of the Year during the organization’s annual awards dinner.
There are some people who have a difficult time thinking of a medical practice as a business, but that’s exactly what it is.
“You can’t get beyond the reality that health care—running a physician’s office, the paramount thing we do—is provide the service of healthcare—it’s a business,” said Southall.
The 1972 graduate of Louisa County High School said he knew as a young boy that he wanted to become a doctor.
“My father was a physician here. He died when I was really young. I was only seven,” Southall said. “I’m sure that had an impact.”
Southall attended University of Richmond, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in Biology in 1976. He earned his medical degree from Medical College of Virginia of Virginia Commonwealth University in 1980.
The young doctor received his postdoctoral training at Blackstone Family Practice Residency Program of Virginia Community College. The three-year program was started when family practice was first approved as a board certified specialty in the late 1960s.
Three physicians who mentored Southall during his residency had a major impact on him, inspiring him to return to his hometown and practice medicine in rural Virginia.
Drs. Epes Harris, James Harris and Stuart White were the attending family physicians at Blackstone, said Southall. All natives of that community, each had their own practices.
“At that time, it was one of the few truly rural medicine family practice tracks that you could do,” Southall said. “They trained a lot of great physicians to go out into rural medicine.”
Unfortunately, Blackstone’s residency program has ceased to exist, but there has been an attempt to reestablish a rural medicine track, he said.
It is believed that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will create an influx of patients entering the healthcare system, at the same time that many primary care physicians will be retiring.
Newer doctors have tended to gravitate toward subspecialty medicine, such as cardiology, pulmonology or other specialized fields of medicine.
Now there is a growing realization that more family practice doctors will be needed in the immediate future as the current ranks begin to exit their practices.
“There’s a real concern that there will be a huge shortage in primary care physicians in the next five to eight years,” he said. “It hurt Virginia when places like Blackstone ceased to be putting out these doctors that wanted to go out in the rural areas.”
Read The Central Virginian’s April 18 issue for the rest of the story