On a cold February night in 2007, I saw first-hand the kindness and gentleness of Dr. Alan Crews when he made a house call on my 93-year-old mother. He took the stethoscope from his little black bag to listen to the heart beating in her frail body. One of Dr. Crews’ strengths through the years has been his compassion for patients and their families during end-of-life care.
I knew ours was one of numerous families in Rhea County served by Dr. Crews as their primary care physician. When I learned that he had retired I wanted to use this Thanksgiving column to speak for the community: “Thank you, Dr. Crews, for your medical knowledge, your compassionate manner, your example of love and care, and for your lifetime of ministry to our county!”
How did the young doctor get to Dayton in 1985 and why did he decide to stay here for his entire 36-year professional career? A visit with Dr. Alan Crews and his wife, Marcia, answered those and many other questions.
Dr. Crews had grown up in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, where as a high school student he had developed his love for science through challenging study in accelerated classes. In fact, he and 4 classmates from those years continued their love for learning, and all became medical doctors.
It was impossible for Dr. Crews to pinpoint one event or person who influenced him to become a doctor. He mentioned several factors that might have contributed to his decision, beginning with watching Marcus Welby on TV and seeing doctors doing good work; his love for the sciences; or the fact that he really liked his own family doctor. When he enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University, Dr. Crews registered as a pre-med major.
After MTSU, Dr. Crews was on to Memphis to the UT College of Medicine. During the first month of his internship he worked at the VA Hospital in Memphis where he met the medical librarian, Marcia Schuldt. When discussing his residency, Dr. Crews credited Marcia, who became his wife during those years, for his success in getting through the grueling schedule.
Coming to Rhea County
Instead of adding to his student loan debt, Dr. Crews began to look for other options for paying for medical school. He investigated the National Health Service Corp which required that following graduation the medical student would locate in a health care shortage area for 2 years. The requirement could be fulfilled by opening a private practice or by becoming an employee at an established government clinic.
Rhea County was on the list of health care shortage areas and was looking for a new doctor. It seems the county was smart in the selection of accommodations used in recruiting the Crewses. Marcia told that they had driven from Memphis to Watts Bar Resort where they were greeted with a note on the closed-for-night office door, “Dr. Crews, the light is on in your cabin and the key is under the mat.” They each repeated their words of that night, “We’re not in Memphis anymore.”
Dr. Crews continued by telling that they woke to the beauty of the mountains and the lake, breakfast at the resort restaurant, and the wonderful people. Over and over during our conversation, he talked about the joy of working with and living among the people of Rhea County.
What factors led to their decision to choose Dayton instead of the other 4 locations they visited? One, the Crewses wanted a small town atmosphere. Two, the county’s varied economic base suggested that a private practice could thrive in this area. Three, Chattanooga’s closeness provided big city benefits when needed. Four, geographically, Rhea County was within reasonable driving distance of parents in Mississippi and Middle Tennessee, the east coast, or the beaches of Florida. Five, the Crewses loved the people of Rhea County. Six, Dr. Crews wanted to be a primary care doctor.
Rhea County was their choice. Dr. Crews explained it with these words, “I think God just touched me and said I want you to go to Dayton, Tennessee.” When residency training was completed in June 1985, they packed up and came. According to Dr. Crews, they never considered leaving.
When discussing challenging times, he quickly named his residency and opening a private practice. Marcia quickly added closing his practice. In addition to being a supportive wife and mother to their 2 daughters, Marcia had worked for 20 years as an assistant in the medical office.
Certainly those were challenging times, but Dr. Crews named the COVID-19 pandemic as the most challenging and stressful time of all. He described his anxiety from his concern for the safety of his employees, patients, his wife and himself. He said that during a 1-year period of the pandemic, 12 patients or personal friends died of COVID-19. In contrast during his 36 years of practice, he knew of 2 individuals who had died from influenza. Dr. Crews is a proponent of the vaccine; he stated that there has been a huge difference in mortality rate since inoculations of the vaccine began.
Changes in Health Care
When asked about changes in health care during his career, Dr. Crews told that early in his medical training he went into a ward of 20 patients with each person separated from the next by a simple curtain. He talked about the vast improvements in facilities he has seen as wards closed and patient rooms opened.
The cardiovascular field was the specific area which he named as having seen the most extensive changes in procedures and drugs with stents, pacemakers, defibrillators, transplants, and valve replacements.
He also named more specialized care as a major change in medicine; rarely does one doctor take out tonsils, deliver babies and care for an individual throughout life. He identified the initiation of the hospitalist program and improvements in intensive care units as other significant changes.
The most rewarding of all times is “when a patient walks up to you and says you saved my life. That sticks with you. Knowing that I can have an impact on somebody’s life every day I go to work. That’s why I have loved medicine,” he said.
“This place, this job that I have done has been a blessing to me for sure. I have been blessed every day of my life to go see these patients, have the wonderful wife, family, and friends that I have. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s been the perfect life,” he added.
The Crewses told of the many expressions of appreciation they have received through the years – baby quilts, homemade cakes and goodies, fruit baskets, phone calls, cards, and letters. “People here are the most generous people ever,” Marcia said. “I have received the sweetest cards and notes at retirement time. I have a stack of them,” Dr. Crews added.
It was with hesitancy that Dr. Crews agreed to this article. His humility was evident when he said “So many have contributed…” I agreed with him that so many are important to good health care here and added, that for me, his life is a role model for us and now at retirement time, we as a community want to say thank you.
During this Thanksgiving season, one of the items high on the gratitude list of all Rhea Countians should be health care and the many professionals who make first-class care available locally. I encourage you to thank a doctor, a nurse, a medical technician, a first responder, or a medical office assistant. They make such a difference in the quality of life we enjoy, and you improve your own wellbeing by showing gratitude. Count your blessings and say thanks!