Dr. Gary Mikel is hanging up his stethoscope after 38 years of service as a family medicine doctor.
“It’s been a privilege to serve and I’ve had a lot of fun,” Dr. Mikel said as he prepares to retire from Sarah Bush Lincoln Family Medical Center in Mattoon at the end of the month. His last day in the clinic will be Friday, December 29.
“It’s hard to say goodbye,” he said. “People have been very appreciative. It is gratifying to hear from people that what I've done over my career has been noticed and appreciated.” He says he’ll miss the personal relationships with his patients and co-workers the most. “The relationships I’ve formed with my patients have kept me going. I’ve learned so much from them,” he said. And he credits those bonds with helping him to be a better doctor.
“You become effective by developing that trust relationship and it’s not difficult to do when you’ve seen them for 20 years. Those are the people that you know their life history and their family’s life history. I feel privileged that they have let me into their lives as an advisor and almost a member,” he said.
Known for taking extensive time to listen to people’s concerns, Dr. Mikel also learned not to leave a room too quickly. “Usually the most important thing they want to talk about happens just as you have your hand on the doorknob ready to leave the room. I don’t know why that is, but I’ve known that for close to 40 years and it’s almost universal,” he said.
A St. Louis area native, Dr. Mikel has impacted many lives during his tenure. He began his career in a small town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where he cared for people and “pushed a lot of snow” for 17 years. In the early years, he delivered babies, caring for the newborns, their parents and often grandparents of the same family. He moved to the area to be closer to family in 1996 and has cared for people at SBL Family Medical Center for 21 years.
However, his path into the medical profession wasn’t typical. He first received a degree in materials engineering and was studying for his Master’s in biomedical materials science at Northwestern University when a research project changed everything. “I was researching the type of materials used for the construction of artificial hips and implants and I found it more interesting talking with the people who were having the procedures than the research and development I was doing with engineering,” he said.
Dr. Mikel enrolled in medical school at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he graduated in 1976. He competed his residency in family medicine at Southern Illinois University in Springfield, where he met and married his wife, Kathy.
While he enjoys caring for people of all ages, he has a special interest and added qualifications in geriatric medicine. “As people get older, their needs change and so does the medical approach,” he said. “I think having compassion is an essential part of being a physician. I find it’s what’s really important in life. You’re on earth to serve others,” he said.
Dr. Mikel also enjoys serving those in need on medical missions trips as well and has traveled to Honduras 10 times in the past 12 years and he plans to continue these trips in retirement. In addition, Dr. Mikel has served as president of the SBL medical staff and on the SBL board of directors for nine years. He also served on Eastern Illinois University’s Gerontology Board of Advisors and as a deacon and trustee at the Charleston Community Church.
As he winds down his practice, Dr. Mikel said, “I definitely want to reassure my patients that there are good practitioners here that will continue to provide good service for them. I can’t say enough about Dr. Kabbes who was hired to take over my practice,” he said, adding that his excellent nursing staff will remain with the practice.
Family Physician Doug Kabbes, MD, is currently working with Dr. Mikel to help make the transition smooth for everyone. Dr. Kabbes has more than 20 years of vast experience, most recently as chairperson of St. Anthony’s Emergency Department in Effingham.
In retirement, Dr. Mikel plans to serve as a volunteer mentor for new medical providers at Sarah Bush Lincoln. “I’ve seen a lot in my 38 years of practice, and I want to provide the advantage of my experience to help answers questions new providers might have about medical problems,” he said. In the spring, he plans to study for recertification in geriatrics one last time.
For fun, Dr. Mikel joined the Coles County Barbershop Quartet a year ago, and looks forward to being available for more performances. However, he especially looks forward to spending more time with his family, both here and in northern Michigan where he still has a summer cabin. He and his wife have two daughters, five grandsons and one granddaughter.