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Finding His Calling and the Joy of Rural Practice

Faculty Spotlight: Brian Barrow, MD

Brian Barrow knew from the second grade that he would one day become a surgeon or a pilot. Over time, his curiosity and love of science would set him on a medical path. However, he never planned to become an ob-gyn. In fact, at one point, he begged his family to talk him out of it.

Brian considered many surgical subspecialties ranging from neurosurgery to pediatric surgery. By the time he entered college at the University of Florida, he was convinced he wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. In medical school at U of F, he had his first chance to truly experience that specialty during a rotation. He loved the complexity of the surgeries but quickly realized the extreme personal sacrifice it would require.

“I didn’t want to do that to myself or my future family,” he explains. “But then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as an alternative. I went into a bit of a tailspin.”

Shortly thereafter, he began his first ob-gyn rotation and, by day three, he was hooked. He enjoyed the people he worked with, the variety each day holds, and the fast pace of moving between routine patient care, surgery, and labor and delivery. He also liked the idea of being able to diagnose and treat conditions both medically and surgically. Many surgical specialties focus on surgery after a diagnosis has already been made. But even though ob-gyn felt like a good fit, he was still unsure. He even asked his family to talk him out of it but, to his surprise, they encouraged him instead. He decided to pursue training at the University of South Florida’s ob-gyn residency program.

A chance encounter during residency would set the course of his career as a rural physician. Dr. Barrow was presenting his research at an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists meeting in Asheville when he was introduced to Lydia Jeffries, MD. She was an ob-gyn in Asheville who knew of a local job opening in Brevard, which she recommended he explore. Having grown up in a small town, it was a perfect fit. The rest, as they say, is history. He moved to Western North Carolina in 2010 and has been caring for families here ever since. Twelve years later, he has no regrets.

“I love being able to treat someone throughout their lifetime,” he shares. “I’m also glad I don’t have to take care of dudes when they are sick. We are the worst!”

Dr. Barrow enjoys the opportunities and challenges that come with rural practice. “In a rural community, everybody knows you. You are taking care of your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers,” he explains. “I try to treat everyone the way I would want my family to be treated. This means always doing the right thing and, in a small town, your reputation depends on it!”

“You have to know when to stop,” Dr. Barrow shares. “If you don’t have adequate back up support, or the facility has limited resources, your patient may be better served at a larger hospital.” Conversely, limited resources also create rewarding opportunities and collegiality.

“A local urologist reached out to me a while back. He had a patient with a really large kidney and he needed another surgeon’s hands to help him remove it,” he recalls. “I was glad to help, and I knew he would do the same for me. In a small town like ours, the medical community is very tight-knit, and you learn to rely on and support each other.”

Dr. Barrow explored another opportunity last year when he approached the Mountain Area Health Education Center about transitioning his practice from another healthcare system. MAHEC was excited to expand its ob-gyn services as part of its commitment to improve access to healthcare, especially in rural communities like Brevard whose hospitals have seen labor and delivery closures over the past several years.

“It was a leap of faith,” he confesses. “But my whole team made it with me, and we are all glad we did.” The MAHEC team was supportive throughout the transition and, in just over a year, the practice has grown to include a certified nurse midwife and a women’s health nurse practitioner. “I have never felt more listened to, respected, appreciated, and supported than I have since joining MAHEC. Plus this is the first time our community has had three dedicated ob-gyn providers.” The growth of the practice and MAHEC’s sliding scale fee enable more families to access the care they need close to home.

Dr. Barrow and MAHEC Women’s Care at Brevard are also helping to build a pipeline of well-trained physicians for rural and medically unserved communities. MAHEC ob-gyn residents and medical students from the University of North Carolina frequently join Dr. Barrow’s care team to learn about practicing and operating in a rural setting. He enjoys teaching them the nuances of rural practice including the importance of developing a broad skill set, making the most of available resources, and collaborating with other colleagues.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to see what works and what doesn’t in a small town,” he explains. “Sometimes it isn’t easy, but there is nowhere else I would rather be. This is my home.”

Thanks to Dr. Barrow and his dedicated team, it is also home to high quality obstetrical and gynecologic care.

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