SHERIDAN – From 1990 to 1992, Dr. Barry Wohl the only pediatrician in Sheridan and Johnson counties.
Wohl still remembers those two years of his career when he was “available all day and all night” for two consecutive years. Those years were exhausting but also fulfilling, Wohl said, recalling the importance of his services in the community.
“Every time I got discouraged, I reminded myself it was my choice,” Wohl said. ‘It was something I wanted to do. And it was a very important trust that the community gave me. They trusted that I would keep pediatrics alive in Sheridan, and that was a trust I didn’t want to break. “
For 42-and-a-half years, Wohl maintained that trust as a pediatrician with Northeast Wyoming Pediatric Associates before retiring early this year. Pediatric Associates was his first and only job after graduating from medical school and completing his pediatric training.
Erin Dunn, office manager of Pediatric Associates, said Wohl’s retirement left a gap that would be difficult to fill.
“We’re going to miss a lot about him,” said Dunn. “His care and dedication to his practice and the community and its patients in general. We will miss his smile and his stories. He really brought so much to this office. “
While Wohl is inseparable from the Wyoming community he calls home, his story begins on the East Coast. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wohl spent his summers as a teenager in summer camps in Vermont. The camp doctor was Jack Paradise, a renowned pediatrician from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I appreciated his kindness and gentleness, as well as how much he knew,” Wohl said. “We were plagued one summer with a serious bacterial infection that boiled every mosquito bite. Its ability to diagnose and treat it made a big difference to the summer’s success. “
Wohl comes from a family of doctors – both his parents were doctors, just like his grandfather – but initially he planned to go in a different direction and become a psychologist.
After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1969, Wohl and his wife spent the summer traveling across the country to Santa Barbara, California, where he would study psychology in the fall. During this trip he got his first introduction to Wyoming.
Steven Piker (professor of anthropology at Swarthmore) told me, “While driving across the country, you have to stop in Wyoming,” Wohl said. “So we did. We went with a backpack to Seneca Lake (near Pinedale). I fell in love with Wyoming on that trip. “
Almost ten years later, Wohl returned to Wyoming. After studying psychology in Santa Barbara for several years, he realized he had a passion for medicine. He remembered his time with Paradise in his teenage summer camps and decided to take up pediatrics. He received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his pediatric training at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In 1977, Wohl made another summer trip across the country, looking for a place to start his practice. On that trip, he stopped in Sheridan, where he met Dr. John Knepper, a resident of Buffalo. A year later, Wohl joined Pediatric Associates, the practice that Knepper had started himself in 1974.
Wohl said he was thrilled to move to Wyoming, even though he had to keep a map in his back pocket to explain his plans to his colleagues in Pennsylvania.
“It wasn’t a map of Wyoming to show them where Sheridan was,” Wohl joked. “It was a map of the United States to show them where Wyoming was.”
Early in Wohl’s career, Knepper taught him three ‘success secrets’ that guided his career. These were Knepper’s three A’s: competence, friendliness and availability.
Wohl sums them up in his own way: “The science of medicine, the kindness of medicine and access to medicine.”
Proficiency, or the science of medicine, may be the hardest to perfect, Wohl said. It requires constant study and learning. The science behind infectious diseases is always growing and evolving, Wohl said. The same is true of the science behind emotional and developmental and behavioral problems.
“The thing about proficiency is that patients aren’t always able to tell whether you have it or not,” Wohl said. “But it is absolutely the key to everything.”
Reliability, or the friendliness of drugs, wasn’t always part of the medical profession, Wohl said. He recalls a story of his grandfather who, after being interrupted several times by a patient, would say, “I’m the doctor here. I’ll ask the questions. “
“That’s not right,” said Wohl. “That is absolutely wrong. You have to greet everyone with a smile. You cannot shame or fire people. You must be open to concerns. Kindness is so simple but so important. “
Dunn said Wohl has taught the importance of kindness to all of the Pediatrics Associates staff.
“I think Dr. Wohl taught us a lot about customer service,” said Dunn. “He taught us that something as simple as a smile goes a long way.”
Wohl admits that he had to learn a little about the kindness of medicine himself.
“In the early years of my career, I got angry when I heard a scientific fact that I thought could help a child – be it a new antibiotic or a new way to perform surgery – and the family didn’t take advantage of that. “said Wohl.” I now realize that as new science comes along, I have to respect the concerns of the patients and their parents about it. While it seems clear to me that it’s a good thing, it’s not clear. I realized I couldn’t help anyone when I was angry. “
Availability, or access to drugs, doesn’t just mean longer hours, Wohl said. It means giving patients his direct contact information and trusting them not to misuse it. It means you don’t have an answering service “because the only thing an answering service can do is tell you no when you need to hear yes.”
It also means that Wohl often didn’t sleep through the night. Even when he was unreachable, he often responded to emergencies in the middle of the night, he said.
When asked if he was enjoying his retirement, Wohl said “yes”; it’s the best night’s sleep he’s had in four decades.
Before December, Wohl was almost always in his office. He rarely took sick days. He only took one day off from work after fracturing his elbow in 2000 and was only three days off after surgery on the intervertebral disc.
But on December 21 last year, he went to the hospital with what he thought was a simple back problem. He actually had an infected heart valve. He was in the hospital for more than a month and underwent several surgeries and several courses of antibiotics.
Wohl said he had been retired for a while and originally planned to leave this summer. His sudden illness and prolonged recovery accelerated the schedule.
Wohl said he is slowly but surely recovering and enjoying his retirement so far. He recently adopted a dog named Enzo, and the duo plan to travel across the country to visit Wohl’s daughter and grandchildren.
Wohl also plans to enjoy the mountains around Sheridan, where he will go backpacking, hiking, and fly fishing; Enzo will hone his mouse hunting skills.
“I like to sleep in a simple tent, eat, study wildlife and take pictures,” says Wohl. “It sounds like a pretty good way to spend my retirement.”
From retirement, Wohl treated the children and grandchildren of some of his first patients. He said he was grateful to the community for the trust of nearly four decades.
“Forty years ago I thought I moved here to be closer to the mountains,” said Wohl. “What I didn’t expect is that I would fall in love with this community. But I was very lucky to find a community like Sheridan. “