'Don't let the debt determine what you do for the rest of your life'
Dr. Sam Stone planned his career at 5 years old and describes the years that followed as “one of those boring stories.”
He told his kindergarten teacher in rural Chester that he would become a doctor. Then he went on to marry his high school sweetheart, study his chosen profession and move back home to pursue it and start a family.
But Dr. Stone wouldn’t have that boring story any other way.
“I'm a small-town family doctor,” he said in a recent interview. “That's what I was born to be, and for the past 37 years, when I get up and look in the mirror, that's what I look forward to doing.”
Dr. Stone’s father, Halsted, graduated from the MUSC College of Medicine in 1949 and gave his son an early look at both sides of the profession. The elder Dr. Stone missed his son’s baseball games when patient emergencies arose, but he also cultivated an extended family that included an entire community.
|College of Medicine students Josh and Lauren Visserman. Photo provided.|
Dr. Stone and his wife, Beverly, now attend anniversaries, graduations and toddler birthday parties with families they’ve known for generations through his practice, Lowrys Family Medicine. “There are people I've known 30 years, and they're part of my family,” he said. “You know so much about them, and that makes taking care of them so much easier.”
When Dr. Stone’s father died 10 years ago, the Stones talked about a way to honor him and also help future medical students. The couple decided to endow a scholarship, with preference given first to Chester natives and then to alumni from Dr. Stone’s alma mater, Clemson University, where he serves as stadium doctor.
“It was just a small way of paying back what has been done for us, because there's a lot of stress on these kids figuring out how they're going to pay for it,” Dr. Stone said. “If we can help out, maybe it will inspire them to help others. “
One of the recipients, fourth-year College of Medicine student Lauren Visserman, received the Stone Family Medicine Scholarship after spending a rotation working with Dr. Stone alongside her husband, Josh. Josh had been assigned to Lowrys Family Medicine, and Lauren had landed in another rural practice where the physician wound up on leave for most of Lauren’s rotation. Dr. Stone told Josh to bring Lauren to the office, that he had plenty of work for both of them.
“I try to show them what it is to be a real doctor,” Dr. Stone said. “By the time their five weeks are up, they've had a chance to see what it's like to be a small-town family doctor.”
For Lauren and Josh, that meant arriving before staff at 7 a.m. and working until 6 p.m. dictating notes. Her first day happened to fall on the third Thursday of the month, when Dr. Stone volunteers at a free clinic for another hour after work.
After that, he packed up to visit the athletes at Chester High School. He looked at Lauren and Josh and, to their relief, suggested that they call it a day and get some dinner.
“I can’t say enough about his work ethic and commitment to patients,” Lauren said. She noticed, day after day, that people showed up without appointments and said, “I just need to talk to Dr. Sam today.”
After seeing Dr. Stone, those people left feeling better – and sometimes with a few Clemson football tickets in their pockets.
Lauren, a Clemson graduate and small-town native of Little Mountain, took out loans to attend medical school. Her scholarship from Dr. Stone was her first.
“It was a very significant impact on paying for medical school,” she said. “Being from Dr. Stone and respecting him so much as a person and a doctor made it even more meaningful.”
Dr. Stone describes his family’s gift as an elevator. After reaching the top, he wanted to send it down to pick up someone else.
“I tell students, don't let the debt determine what you do for the rest of your life,” he said. “If you want to be a family doctor, be a family doctor. It might take you a little longer to pay the debt off, but you'll be happy doing what you're doing, and you'll be serving your community. We don't want anyone who would make a wonderful doctor not to be one because they can’t afford it.”