By Beth Lawrence
Dr. Ben Douglas has practiced medicine in Western North Carolina for 35 years, but that time came to an end earlier this month.
Douglas retired on Jan. 3. He was the first otolaryngologist, (ear, nose and throat doctor) in Jackson County and the first at Harris Regional Hospital. He established his practice in Sylva in 1985.
Douglas became an ENT because of the people he trained under when completing a surgical internship at the University of Florida.
“I liked the idea that a lot of the folks you took care of got better, and that there was a mixture of both medicine and surgery involved,” he said.
Douglas is a native of Tryon. He earned his medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1975, completed an internship in Florida and was called up to serve in the Army.
While in the Army, he served in a number of medical positions in Germany; in the states he worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, Fort Bragg and San Francisco. He left the military to return to private practice in 1985.
Douglas founded Mountain Ear, Nose & Throat Associates with Greg Salyer, Au.D. a friend and audiology associate with whom he served at Fort Bragg.
He also conducted clinics in Graham, Swain and Cherokee counties and began seeing patients on the Qualla Boundary twice weekly. Douglas opened offices in Franklin in 1999.
Douglas had a particular interest in diseases which affect children and in surgery.
“I liked doing tonsils and tubes and doing the things that make kids feel better, sleep better, behave better, and seeing them go from being ill to being healthier,” Douglas said.
Douglas’ wife, Kathleen, thinks her husband will miss a bonus aspect from that part of his practice – having his pediatric patients recognize him in public.
“He’s going to miss walking around in Walmart and having little kids come jumping up into his arms, like ‘Doctor, Doctor, you took out, you,’ and the kids can’t even talk they’re so excited,” she said. “He really loved that.”
Douglas also appreciated the challenges of surgery.
He’ll miss the difficult task of operating on patients with facial fractures which he calls like “trying to put the puzzle back together,” and trying to give people their former looks back and restoring their confidence.
His favorite part of working in Jackson County has been the people.
“Jackson County has a population that has given back as much to me as I’ve given to the county,” Douglas said. “The people are respectful, honest, friendly. I can’t say (enough) good about the people of Jackson County, not to mention the beauty and resources that are here.”
Douglas will miss interacting with the people of his practice – patients, staff and partners.
“After a while, doing the work of otolaryngology becomes routine, but the people never become routine,” he said.
He is going to miss the friendships he has made with patients, his colleagues and staff.
His staff will miss him as well.
Annette Allred, surgery coordinator, has worked with Douglas for 18 years. She is Douglas’ longest serving staff member.
Allred calls it an honor to have worked with him.
“He is truly a great physician and an even better human being; I’m thankful to call him my friend,” she said
Dr. John Buenting has been Douglas’ partner at Mountain Ear Nose and throat for 15 years. He called Douglas a mentor and friend.
“His compassion and fairness have become guiding principles for me in my own practice. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy certainly lives on,” Buenting said.
Practice Administrator Mistie Collins calls Douglas “the standard for what a healthcare professional should be,” and speaks highly of his compassion.
“He has always put his patients first, whether that meant getting in the floor to sit and play with a child that was nervous about having their tonsils taken out or comforting a patient that has just received a scary diagnosis,” Collins said.
Douglas plans to spend time with his family, especially his three teenagers, work on his horse farm, and continue competition horseback riding.