July 27, 2007

Vine Hill physician relishes ‘privilege’ of service

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Roger DesPrez, M.D., is a fixture at Vine Hill Community Clinic. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Vine Hill physician relishes ‘privilege’ of service

Roger DesPrez, M.D., recently celebrated his 80th birthday and shows no sign of slowing down in his role as a consulting physician at the Vine Hill Community Clinic, a nurse-managed health care center.

“I've always considered being a doctor a privilege,” said DesPrez, professor of Medicine and Nursing, Emeritus. “I love seeing patients and working with young professionals.”

DesPrez, a pulmonologist, was recruited from Cornell in 1963 and served as chief of medicine at the Veteran's Administration Hospital and as a professor of Medicine at VUMC for 32 years.

His 1995 retirement was short-lived, however, as he joined the staff of the School of Nursing-operated Vine Hill Clinic in 1996. At that time, Vine Hill was located in the bottom floor of Vine Hill Towers and had a staff of three.

Since then, the Vine Hill Community Clinic has moved and expanded its location and services. It continues its affiliation with VUSN and is operated by the University Community Health System. Nurse practitioners see up to 90 patients a day from across Davidson County. A majority of these patients are low-income and have various barriers to health care. They may not get regular checkups and come to the clinic with complicated health issues. If a nurse practitioner needs a consultation, DesPrez is an on-the-spot resource.

Such was the situation with Leanne Carlton, who was experiencing problems with her foot. She had sharp pains and noticed it pointing outward. She had a health care provider, but was not getting helpful answers or effective treatment.

“By the grace of God, I found out about the Vine Hill Community Clinic,” she said. “They pulled me up and saved my life.”

Sandra Ermini, R.N., a family nurse practitioner and instructor at VUSN, immediately attended to her and consulted with DesPrez about the case. Carlton underwent weeks of testing to determine that she had a rare condition — infection eating away at her foot from the inside out. She was eventually referred to an orthopaedic surgeon who had to amputate her left leg under her knee. She believes if she hadn't switched to Vine Hill Community Clinic, her infection would have spread and she would have lost her other leg, or worse.

“Dr. DesPrez plays an important role in the continuing clinical development of our faculty who are assigned to Vine Hill clinic,” said Terri Crutcher, M.S.N., R.N., clinical director, Primary Care and Women's Health. “We deal with a wide range of patients, including those with diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure. His mentorship helps us provide the best care possible for our patients.”

DesPrez has been married to his wife, Patsy, for 42 years. Together they have five children and eight grandchildren. At this point in life, others might devote time to hobbies rather than work, but not DesPrez. Helping people first attracted him to a career in medicine and his long, remarkable career has led him to where he is happiest — working with patients and teaching health care professionals and students.

“This place keeps me young,” said DesPrez. “I'm in an enviable position because physicians today often don't have the time they would like to have with their patients. I have the time to dedicate and am happy to do so.”

In 2003, DesPrez was honored by VUSN with the Ingeborg Grosser Mauksch Award for Excellence in Faculty Mentoring.