Woman becomes doctor later in life

By Julie Fann
star staff

When Carol Procter graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in nursing in 1970, women still weren't allowed to wear pants on campus. Only one female attended the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
   Thirty-four years later, more than 50 percent of Vanderbilt's medical students are female, and Dr. Procter now has her own office located behind Sycamore Shoals Hospital where she practices internal medicine with Dr. Stephen Loyd. At the age of 49, in 1997, Carol Procter began medical school at East Tennessee State University.
   "I was scared to death when I started. It's not that you have to be so smart to do well; it's just there's such a volume of stuff and you just have to keep up with it every day," she said during a recent interview.
   Becoming a doctor meant changing the way she viewed her life and her goals. A mother of three daughters, when her children entered college, Procter reconsidered the value of her womanhood as it related to her career.
   "I often think about how my kids never even considered not going to college and never considered not working, and my mother's fondest dream for me was that I would marry somebody rich and never have to work. That's really the way things used to be," she said.
   Procter worked for her husband, an oral surgeon in Morristown, for 20 years before they divorced. She also was a home health and hospice nurse at Holston Valley Hospital, now Wellmont. "When I went to people's homes, I would be giving them ten medicines, and I didn't know which ones reacted with what. I had thought about becoming a nurse practitioner, which is what my sister is, and she said, 'Well, why don't you think about medical school first.'"
   Getting ready for medical school involved re-taking classes like biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics due to vast advancements in medicine. "It took me two years to do that and take the MCAT, and then I applied, and I got in, and I was like, 'Oh no, now they've called my bluff,'" Procter said.
   Even though she was the oldest person in her class, the other students made her feel like an equal. "Many of the students were as old as my children; you would think that many people would have been condescending, but they weren't. Even the attendings and the surgeons all took me seriously. You want them to expect the same from you as they do from everyone else - that's flattering."
   Procter's middle daughter, Jessica, also graduated from medical school at ETSU, two years behind her mother. She is currently working on a residency in pediatrics, and her husband, Pete Tuberty, graduated with Procter and is now a family practice physician at The Castle on Roan Street in Johnson City.
   For the past 10 months since finishing her residency, Procter has been practicing internal medicine with Dr. Loyd at 1503 W. Elk Ave. She sees anywhere from 12 to 20 patients a day, depending on the nature of their problem.
   "You probably wouldn't come to an internist unless you had more than one problem. You could just go to a walk-in clinic if you have bronchitis; so a lot of our patients have diabetes and heart disease," she said. "Seeing a patient never takes less than 20 minutes, and new patients take an hour."
   Procter carried a lot of her nursing knowledge and compassion with her into her work as a physician.
   "I really try to keep my mouth shut and let the patients talk. They usually know what's wrong, and there's usually a reason they came to the doctor. Even if they say, 'For two years I've had this terrible headache.' Why did they pick today (to go to the doctor)?," she said.
   Being a beginning physician in a field that is now controlled largely by insurance companies, coupled with soaring health care costs, isn't easy, but Procter said doctors who remember the "good 'ole days" of medicine seem to be more shaken by changes in the system.
   "I think I benefit from starting after all those things have happened. I think the people for whom it's really hard are the ones who started 20 years ago when patients paid their bills or gave you pigs and you didn't have insurance companies telling you which medicines to give," she said.
   Procter said it's unfortunate that health care isn't being rationed in any official manner. The effect then is that patients are required to jump through too many hurdles and, if they aren't persistent, don't get the health care they need.
   "Because nobody wants to say, 'You can't have your dialysis; you can't have your kidney transplant.' If you sat somebody down and said, 'Do you want everybody to have their broken leg fixed?' Of course they're going to say they want them to have it fixed. It's just that nobody wants to pay for it," she said.
   Nevertheless, complete socialized medicine is not the answer either because the cost still must be covered, she said. "It would just be prohibitively expensive. I mean, that's the bottom line."
   Procter's father was a stable role model in her life who encouraged her to pursue her goal. Now 86 years old, he was once the president of the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville. He also served on the board at Vanderbilt Hospital and Third National Bank, now Suntrust.
   "He encouraged me and helped me financially when the girls wanted to do fun things like go on a trip while I was in medical school," she said. "I really give him much of the credit."