Dr. Whatley enters retirement

Robin McCormick
Devlin correspondent

On April 1, Dr. Phillip Whatley will officially hang up his stethoscope and retire, after 41 years of dedication and compassion.

I recently had the privilege of spending a few hours with Dr. Whatley and his wife Karen. The great pride Dr. Whatley has taken in his work is obvious. But at 69, he’s ready for retirement. He’s worked half time at the clinic for three years, and continues to work one day a week. He will also stay on hand to replace Dr. Meyers, if she’s away.

Being a doctor wasn’t always the life plan for Dr. Whatley. Early in life, he had considered earning his Masters in Theology. His faith, and that of his wife of 48 years, Karen, has always been of extreme importance to him. However, back in the 70s he was working a summer job on a survey crew. He was working with chain saws, and knee deep in the bush, when a coworker asked if he had ever considered going into medicine for a career. At the time, he had already finished his first year of university.

He followed that with two years of pre-med and finished his degree, but didn’t get accepted for medicine, so he worked for two years.

He smiled as he remembered a day working in the bush in Armstrong. It was hot, with lots of bugs. Then his boss turned to him and said, “we know why we’re here. . . we don’t know why you’re here.”

Phil and Karen had been married for a year when he was accepted into the University of Manitoba Health Science Centre. Whoever he was accepted into the Masters of Theology program the exact same day. He chose to go into the medical field, which had always been his first choice, though his desire has always been to Honour Lord God and Jesus Christ.

He graduated six years later in 1979, and started his medical career at the Emo Clinic and the Emo Red Cross Hospital, which had 23 beds at the time, alongside John O’Sullivan.

Dr. Whatley and Karen has visited the Emo in 1975, and spoke to O’Sullivan about career opportunities.

Dr. Whatley, and Karen felt it was a good place to live. But they weren’t there to stay. Over the years, the Whatley family grew to include four children – Chris, Jeremy, Carolyn and Claire. In 1985, the entire family moved to Durham Ont. Dr. Whatley had made the choice to do mission work, with his family by his side.

They took a six week Mission Training Course, which involved living in the bush and digging a fridge into the ground. Karen chuckled as she told me how filthy the kids were at the end of the day. But, the sacrifice paid off – Phil received his Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1986.

From 1985 to 1997 Dr. Whatley would live for two months a year in Canada doing Locum medicine in Thunder Bay, while making his permanent home in Camdenton, Missouri, for the next twelve years.

Whatley worked as a family Doctor there, working for ETHNOS (Greek, meaning “for the people”), where he did medical assessments for missions, before they headed overseas.

His missionary work also included language translation and learning, literacy, bible translation and church planting. Phil also taught basic medical care, such as healthy living, infections, malaria, skin problems and how to give injections. Other missions included trips to Indonesia, Senegal and Venezuela for a month each.

From 1993-1994 he was at the Baptist Mission Hospital, Ivory Coast, West Africa. He was teaching Ivorian nurses how to immunize.

In 1997 Dr. Whatley moved back to Emo to resume family medicine. Dr. Whatley has many fond memories of working with Dr. O’Sullivan, and speaks highly of him. They shared many great years of doctoring, and memories. Dr. O’Sullivan passed at the age of 68.

Although Dr. Whatley has valued his career and the patients he has provided health care for, he will never forget the exhaustion that comes with being a doctor. It was common to return home from a days work, with Karen handing him the phone to go back to work for an emergency. He and Dr. O’Sullivan shared what is referred to as “one in two,” meaning they shared equal on call time. He remembers many years not going to bed until midnight.

Dr. Whatley remembers owning a station wagon and doing some home visits. One memory sticks with him. When they lived on River Road, he got a call to deliver a baby, but there was a train stopped on the track. He managed to squeeze through the train, and someone meet him on the other side and off to the hospital they went.

Dr. Whatley was also the “Chief of Staff” for Riverside Health for about ten years. He shared with me how so much has changed, when he and Dr. O’Sullivan worked together there would be approximately a half an hour of paperwork a day. Today there’s almost an hour of desk work per patient.

Dr. Whatley shared with me that the improvement in medications has improved significantly since his early days in practice. New medications for high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes help patients live a longer and healthier life.

That, along with scans, echo cardiograms, MRIs and ultrasound, have brought healthcare a long way. The internet has also helped doctors; he remembers having to drive to Winnipeg to visit a library to do research.

I did ask Karen what it was like bring married to a doctor, she replied ” he wasn’t a doctor when I married him.” However she soon found out it was a twenty four seven career. It was difficult to entertain and many activities were missed. But it’s obvious she loves her husband.

When asked what advice he would give people thinking of a career in medicine today he replied that he couldn’t think of anything he’d rather have spent his life doing – especially rural family practice.

When Dr. Whatley turned 65, he was advised to slow down. He’s definitely made progress, but it took him years to realize if a phone rang at night, it didn’t mean he was needed at the hospital.

Today, Dr. Whatley and Karen live in a beautiful, and cozy home in Emo. They enjoy 30 acres of property, where he has groomed ten miles of trails for cross country skiing and horse riding. He loves to deer hunt, and enjoys playing his guitar.

The couple plan to do some travelling to visit family in retirement. Both Dr. Whatley and Karen have siblings living in northwestern Ontario, and they have 11 grandchildren.

Three of the couple’s children live in the United States, through Minnesota and Missouri. The exception is Claire, who lives in B.C. Claire is also the only child following in her father’s medical footsteps, by working in the X Ray field.

Dr. Whatley and Karen are also planning to spent more time at the Calvary Baptist Church in Emo. Dr. Whatley is an overseer at the church, and Karen has been in the Mission team for more than 10 years.

Their intent is to honour God with their lives and service. He enjoys teaching, and sometimes gives the sermon at the church.

They like the simple life – family, faith and their church family and they feel truly blessed. I asked them if they had a favourite quote or words to live by. Later in the day Dr. Whatley sent me this: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.