Dr. William Medd talks with Sarah Flagg as they walk down a hall at the William L. Medd, MD Health Center in Norway on Thursday morning. Flagg is in charge of the medical records department. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

NORWAY — When Bill Medd and friend Donald Ware arrived in town 45 years ago, the two new doctors reached the wooden building with a red awning and stopped.

“I said, ‘Oh, my lord, this is the hospital?'” Medd said.

They were looking for a town where they could set up a medical practice together. Someplace in New England. Someplace with a local hospital. They had already checked out towns in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Norway, Maine, was the fourth stop on their road trip, the last on their list.

Charmed by the people, the lake and all of the outdoor recreation — if not so much the wooden building with the red awning — the young doctors took two days to decide Norway was where they wanted to be.

“Since then, it’s been an incredible ride,” Medd said.

On Friday, Medd, 76, retired after 45 years as an internist in the community. Over the years, he’s cared for thousands of people. He helped Stephens Memorial grow from that little building to a full-sized hospital. He’s encouraged a number of young doctors to practice in the area and was instrumental in the creation of a medical residency program to entice new doctors to take up rural medicine. He’s beloved and admired by the community, colleagues and patients.

A couple of years ago, a medical building was named after him. On Saturday, the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce presented him with a special legacy award.

But Medd is proudest of one thing: All of that work has been here.

“I would say I was probably the luckiest guy in the world,” he said.

Medd grew up on Long Island, the son of a doctor who treated patients out of his house. Medd went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, then the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York. Between medical residencies, he served two years in the United States Air Force.

He set up a medical practice in Norway with Ware and a home with wife Marge and their three children.

“We didn’t interview superintendents of schools or anything else,” Medd said. “We figured we’d take the kids with us and they’d grow up in a country setting.”

The medical practice was known as Oxford Hills Internal Medicine. It was independent from the hospital back then, but Stephens Memorial was still an integral part of the doctors’ lives, both for patient care and their rented office space.

Opposed to building space for doctors’ offices — the hospital board thought doctors should be doing that themselves — the board originally planned to build just a single-story medical facility, Medd said. But the CEO at the time realized young doctors had no money and the hospital would have to help if it wanted them to set up shop in town.

“When we decided to come, they decided to make it a two-story building. That’s the original Ripley health building that’s connected by a walkway to the hospital,” Medd said. “And now we have enough docs and enough need for space that they built the primary care office farther downtown.”

It wasn’t always easy being an internist in rural Maine. For a time, Medd was one of only a few doctors on call in town. He always had to be as comfortable doing a biopsy or a colonoscopy as he was a basic physical.

“Rural people deserve the same health care as people who live in suburbs and cities,” Medd said. “Sub-specialists wouldn’t have enough to do in an area where we are, so internal medicine provides a lot of things that generally you’d have to go do in a sub-specialty office.”

Bill Medd. Photo courtesy Stephens Memorial Hospital

Over the decades, medicine changed. Stephens Memorial became part of the MaineHealth system. Medd’s own practice became part of the hospital and, as a rural health clinic, the practice was renamed Western Maine Primary Care — Internal Medicine. Computers began edging their way into the exam room as electronic medical records became more important.

“Many cases over the years I’ve picked up by listening to the patient, and that’s where the computer gets into the middle of it and is really taxing all of us in primary care. Because everything you decide to do is based on what the patient tells you,” Medd said. “Some of the times I’ve picked up (on) patients who have things like triple coronary disease or left main coronary disease that they call the widowmaker. I mean, these are people who probably would have had sudden death if you hadn’t listened to them.”

But no matter how medicine changed, Medd loved his practice, his patients, his colleagues, the community.

“You could get involved. You could make a difference,” Medd said. “It’s different in a big city.”

Norway loved him right back.

“He’s just been an amazing talent, somebody who’s so revered by staff and patients and the community at large,” said Stephens Memorial President Timothy Churchill, who has worked for the hospital for 22 years. “He brought a notion that patients in rural communities like ours deserve outstanding medical care close to home, care as good as any provided in larger cities. He really worked at that. He really believed that.”

Medd shared that passion with other doctors. He so enjoyed working in Norway and was so enthusiastic about the need for good health care there that he encouraged primary care doctors and specialists — in cardiology, oncology, urology and orthopedic surgery, among others — to start practicing in the area, at least part time.

“He has played a real instrumental role in all of our recruitment efforts at Stephens,” Churchill said. “I think what he’s done is demonstrate how rural medicine can be practiced in a rewarding way, high quality, that lets people think about coming to a community like Norway.”

Not content with recruiting doctors after they’ve already started practicing somewhere else, Medd began talking about reaching out to medical students. If he and Stephens Memorial showed young doctors the joys of a rural medicine practice while they were still training, Medd figured, they would be more inclined to steer their careers in that direction.

“He was relentless in proposing that idea,” Churchill said. “I think he talked at length with his colleagues at Maine Med (in Portland), saying, you know, we need to think about this.”

The result was the Rural Internal Medicine Maine Track, a three-year residency program in which young doctors train in Norway and Portland. Hospital officials believe the rural residency is one of the first of its kind in the country.

The first resident, Sam Ferguson, started the program last year. He has already signed on to practice in Norway when his residency is complete.

“I see myself in it for the long haul, for sure, up here,” said Ferguson, who grew up in Cumberland and always knew he wanted to practice in Maine. “I’ve got no reasons to go anywhere else, that’s absolutely for sure.”

Sam Ferguson was the first young doctor to participate in the Rural Internal Medicine Maine Track, a three-year residency program in which young doctors train in both Norway and Portland. Photo courtesy Stephens Memorial Hospital

He considers Medd a mentor.

“It’s astonishing to be with someone who knows so much internal medicine and knows the importance of it, especially the importance in a smaller area where you really can be that linchpin that helps provide for the community, both inside of the office, outside of the office,” Ferguson said. “Being with him and seeing how he handles the community and how the community really respects what he does and is thankful for what he does has kind of cemented my thoughts of wanting to do something very similar. It’s been incredible. The care he has for his patients is something I aspire to.”

Medd was thrilled when he learned Ferguson’s rural medicine residency was going to turn into a rural medicine career.

“I said, ‘It works! We got one who’s going to stay,'” Medd said.

But as one doctor prepares to practice in Norway, another is leaving. Medd officially retired Friday.

“I didn’t envision that day coming,” Churchill said. “It’s still hard for me to imagine that.”

At 76, Medd decided it was time for him to step away.

“I’d like a little freedom and I’d like a little less worry, because you worry about patients,” Medd said. “I could keep doing this forever, but it’s not the right thing to do.”

His plans for retirement? “I have no clue,” Medd said.

“I’ve got to clean the basement and the attic,” he added with a laugh. “But then I say to myself, ‘If the kids inherit whatever’s left, they can clean the basement and the attic.'”

He is certain of something in retirement: He’s not leaving Norway.

“This is home,” he said.

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