One on One with…Maine Family Physician of the Year, Dr. Eric Gerchman

Dr. Eric Gerchman  Raised in Allentown, Pa., grew up in the suburbs with three siblings. Eric’s dad had a private practice on the west side of Allentown for 40 years, and sold it to Lehigh Valley Health systems two years before retiring. Education: Eric attended Temple University for his undergraduate studies, where he met his wife, Denyell. Medical school degree is from the Chicago Medical School. Returned to Pennsylvania for residency at Lancaster General Hospital Family Practice Residency program and graduated in 1998. Joined a very busy practice in Pennsylvania and after a year, joined the National Health Service Corp. Moved to Maine to follow “his heart and raise four children (Brenna, Logan, Austin and McKenna) in a much better environment — in Denmark.” “Our plan was to stay for four to five years, but fell in love with the Maine way of life and have been here ever since,” he said. Joined Bridgton Hospital after the government decided not to honor the National Health Service Corp contract and shortly thereafter, Eric found myself having a cholecystectomy at Bridgton Hospital. “During my hospital stay, I inquired about a job with the Bridgton Hospital Group. That was in 2001. I have enjoyed the full family practice experience of office-based care, hospital care and delivering babies for most of my time with Bridgton Hospital,” he said. “With the changing demands on healthcare, my practice has narrowed to primarily out-patient care, with some hospitalist care and inpatient newborn care.”

Dr. Eric Gerchman
Raised in Allentown, Pa., grew up in the suburbs with three siblings. Eric’s dad had a private practice on the west side of Allentown for 40 years, and sold it to Lehigh Valley Health systems two years before retiring.
Education: Eric attended Temple University for his undergraduate studies, where he met his wife, Denyell. Medical school degree is from the Chicago Medical School. Returned to Pennsylvania for residency at Lancaster General Hospital Family Practice Residency program and graduated in 1998. Joined a very busy practice in Pennsylvania and after a year, joined the National Health Service Corp. Moved to Maine to follow “his heart and raise four children (Brenna, Logan, Austin and McKenna) in a much better environment — in Denmark.”
“Our plan was to stay for four to five years, but fell in love with the Maine way of life and have been here ever since,” he said.
Joined Bridgton Hospital after the government decided not to honor the National Health Service Corp contract and shortly thereafter, Eric found myself having a cholecystectomy at Bridgton Hospital.
“During my hospital stay, I inquired about a job with the Bridgton Hospital Group. That was in 2001. I have enjoyed the full family practice experience of office-based care, hospital care and delivering babies for most of my time with Bridgton Hospital,” he said. “With the changing demands on healthcare, my practice has narrowed to primarily out-patient care, with some hospitalist care and inpatient newborn care.”

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — When Eric Gerchman decided to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a doctor, he also followed his dad’s approach to medicine.

“Take good care of the patient and the rest will take care of itself.”

For the past 20 years, those words of wisdom served him well.

Dr. Gerchman, a member of the medical staff at Bridgton Hospital, was recently named the 2016 Maine Family Physician of the Year. Dr. Gerchman has been a dynamic member of the Bridgton Hospital Medical staff for almost 20 years. He currently practices at Fryeburg Family Medicine in Fryeburg, but started with us in Naples at Naples Family Practice.

“He is known by all in our community for his compassion for his patients and their families, as well as his ongoing passion and commitment for improved healthcare for all,” wrote Bridgton Hospital President and CEO, David Frum, in his letter of recommendation for the annual award. “First and foremost, Dr. Gerchman is a dedicated physician. The son of a family medicine physician in Chicago, Eric knew early on that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as an ‘old school’ doctor. He speaks often of just being able to carry a ‘little black bag and just take care of his patients.’ In the early years of his career, he struggled with what he perceived to be the sometimes overwhelming bureaucracy that seems to define medicine and the restrictions imposed on physician’s who just want to take care of their patients. And yet, as we fast forward to today, we see where he has found a way to embrace both worlds and in fact has pioneered new ways of practicing that affirm the needs of all.”

“He is respected by his peers and hospital administration alike and embraces the opportunity his administrative role provides to bring about the changes he believes are so important to his patients and their families.” Frum added.

Dr. Gerchman has been recognized both internally and externally for his unwavering commitment to patients over the years with numerous awards and public recognition, including the 2014 Bridgton Hospital HEROES Award, given to providers and staff who best demonstrate the best of healthcare professionals today by providing with expertise, exceptional healthcare services in a safe and trustful environment; the Patients Choice Award, granted by a public survey company, reflects the recognition patients have of the difference a particular physician has made in their lives and that of their families; and the Compassionate Doctor Recognition, granted to physicians who have delivered care with the utmost kindness and respect — to name just a few.

Dr. Gerchmans’ dedication to improving healthcare goes beyond his work at the practice. He completed a humanitarian medical trip to Jamaica in June 2015 along with his wife, and is an active member of the Denmark Congregational Church. He is also the first physician to volunteer for extra shifts in the hospital to support the efforts of the inpatient medical providers needing additional staffing.

“Dr. Gerchman is all that one could expect from their physician. He is knowledgeable, compassionate, respected by his peers and an advocate for improved healthcare and the delivery of that care for all,” Frum added. “Dr. Gerchman exemplifies the best of the best. We are proud to have him as a member of our staff and hope that he might be recognized by his peers for the great work he has done and we are certain will continue to do for the people of our community.”

The News last week went one on one with Dr. Gerchman:

BN. How were you nominated for the award and how did you feel about receiving it?

Dr. Gerchman: The Maine Academy of Family Physicians recognizes a family physician in the State of Maine for their outstanding dedication and commitment to their patients and their community. This year, the “Family Physician of the Year” award somehow has my name on it. A family physician is elected through a nomination process, which I have come to understand is a substantial amount of work. I am honestly humbled by the fact that Bridgton Hospital felt that the care I provide to the community of Fryeburg and surrounding area was worthy for such a nomination and I am equally humbled that they felt strongly enough about it that they spent the time to complete such an involved nomination process. I am very thankful to the people of Bridgton Hospital that were involved in putting together a winning nomination packet.

BN. How long have you been in family practice and what steered you in that direction?

Dr. Gerchman: I have been a family physician for 18 years, 17 of which, I have been practicing in Maine. My dad, a family physician for 42 years, has been my strongest influence and my inspiration for being a family physician. Growing up, his dedication to his patients had been a major inspiration for me to follow in his footsteps. During my schooling, he taught me many lessons in regards to the importance of treating the patient first and the rest of medicine would take care of itself. He has been through many changes in healthcare, but always focused on taking care of the patient and he had always done well. I remember him telling me that during the time when HMOs first came onto the scene, a time when many physicians struggled, he had done well because he remained focused on good patient care and not on all the distractions of the business of medicine. It was his love of taking care of the community that allowed him to weather many healthcare storms and that inspired me to do the same.

BN. What are the biggest challenges rural doctor’s face today?

Dr. Gerchman: I have practiced in rural settings for the past 17 years. The first year in Maine, I practiced in a National Health Service Corp site. This is a practice that serves an underserved community. There are many struggles trying to deliver care in rural communities. The most difficult barriers have been a lack of resources and trying to provide those limited and expensive, resources to the people in need, who themselves have limited resources. Developing a culture of health and prevention has proven to be a challenge in rural areas that are used to a culture of only seeing a doctor when they are sick. As a family physician, our focus is on health and prevention whenever possible. It is always better to prevent disease than to treat it.

BN. What are the biggest changes in medicine you have seen over the years?

Dr. Gerchman: The biggest changes I have seen in healthcare include Obama care, which has had a disappointing impact on our ability to provide care to the underserved population. The healthcare industry has started to shift its focus from treating disease to providing health and prevention. This is an exciting change and has the potential to truly impact the health of our communities and as a result will decrease the cost of healthcare in this country. This shift in focus has come with its own set of challenges, which the corporate part of healthcare is struggling with. However, all of the parties involved in healthcare seem to be on the same page and are beginning to develop partnerships to work toward this common goal. Physicians are becoming stronger leaders, partnering with administration to work through these very difficult challenges.

BN. When you were thinking about a career path, were there other fields you considered, and what led you to pursue being a doctor?

Dr. Gerchman: I think I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a young child. As I went through medical school, I seriously considered OB/GYN, as well as family practice. As I went through my family practice rotations I knew that being able to do, not only OB, but also provide care from “cradle to grave” was where my heart truly was.

BN. For our young people thinking about a medical career, what were the biggest obstacles you have to overcome to reach her goals to be a physician?

Dr. Gerchman: All four of my children are considering a career in healthcare. I tell them to follow their heart and never give up. It can get overwhelming with all of the pressures of doing well in school and trying to remain well rounded. The feeling that one may not be good enough can be overwhelming, as well. However, I tell them that they must persevere through all the doubts and keep focused on why they chose the path they did. Providing healthcare to your community is well worth all the struggles. I let them know all the struggles I went through with my career including not being accepted into medical school the first time I applied and only having one medical school accept me the second time I applied. I would go through it all again. I have been blessed with the career I have had. Lastly, I remind them that they should only consider a career in healthcare for the love of what they do and not for prestige or financial gain, neither of these will ever make you happy, it is sometimes a bonus, but is never as important as the privilege of being able to do something you love to do.

BN. What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Dr. Gerchman: I have sat in several roles throughout my career, some more administrative than others. I find myself smiling the most when I’m in the room with the patient behind close doors trying to help them with whatever struggles that they may have. It is not uncommon for me to do a “happy dance” when someone reaches whatever goal we have been working on. I have a “success” board that contains stories, labs, weights…of people that have reached a goal in their life that was a struggle and has changed their life. It reminds me of how lucky I am to have just a small part in someone’s life and perhaps have been a positive influence upon them. That is why I am an physician. How blessed am I?

BN. What aspects are the most trying?

Dr. Gerchman: Today’s healthcare industry has become a struggle to be a part of. The fact that we call it an industry speaks volumes to the misplaced direction that healthcare has taken. In my career and in my dad’s career, healthcare has focused on paying for sick care and seeing as many patients as you can in a day (whether you truly took good care of them or not). It was less about keeping people healthy, more about just getting them in and out of the office and about how many diagnoses one could bill for. That after all, was where the money was. As with most industries, the healthcare industry has been focused on the bottom line and has lost the “why” in what we do. It has led to physician and healthcare worker burnout and created an environment of apathy and lack of engagement. Recently, however, the healthcare industry seems to be trying to change its direction back to the “why” we as a system even exist. The focus on providing prevention and health is becoming more prevalent. Accountable care organizations, patient center medical homes, the triple aim, population management, are all terms and programs attempting to reshape the healthcare culture. It is actually an exciting time to be a family physician in America. There is an evolution of healthcare that must continue in order to improve the health of our communities while at the same time controlling costs of healthcare. There is a necessity to downsize the cost of our healthcare in our country. Organizations that want to survive this evolution must be willing to change focus from the bottom line to providing health to our communities. My father’s mantra has stood the test of time and I truly believe will be the answer to the changes we are all facing. “Take good care of the patient and the rest will take care of itself.” The organization that can make an honest shift from focusing on the bottom line to focusing on the patient will be the one that will survive the necessary changes happening in healthcare.

BN. Because of the stress that comes with your work, what do you do to find a balance in life?

Dr. Gerchman: It is very easy to get consumed with the demands of being in this field. Finding a balance is a constant battle. I am blessed with a very understanding wife. She is not only my best friend, but is a hospital pharmacist and shares in the struggles of being a provider in the current healthcare environment. She is my strength when I am weak, as I am hers. We focus on our family and our friends, as well as continue to grow in our faith, without which neither of us could do what we do.

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