After a career spanning more than half a century, William H. Fee Jr., beloved Venango County physician, will be closing the doors of his clinic this afternoon for the final time.
Fee, a pulmonologist who has practiced in Franklin and surrounding areas since arriving here in 1974, is retiring to spend more time on his farm and in the company of his family, including two young grandchildren.
He will see his last patients today at his current office at UPMC Chest Medicine Associates at 124 Home Depot Drive in Cranberry Township.
He’s also been a constant figure over the years on the fringes of Franklin School sporting events, and he’s one of the last doctors still doing house calls.
“I do house calls to take care of the patient, and when he’s too sick to come to the hospital,” Fee, who was also his 80th birthday, said on Wednesday as he sat on the porch of his Franklin farm.
He also heals the Amish community.
“Joyce and I do it together,” he said, smiling at his wife, Joyce Fee, who has been a flight nurse with STAT MedEvac for 25 years. “I think the most important thing is to be compassionate and caring.”
William Fee grew up in a small town called Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, and earned a degree in biology from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.
He then attended Duke University Medical School from 1964 to 1968.
“I didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t have a car either,” he recalls.
During his first two years of classes at Duke during the day, he lived at the nearby VA hospital and paid for room and board by working there as a clinical clerk from 5 to 7:30 a.m. every morning.
He was also on duty every five evenings.
“I lived just above the ER,” he said. “I didn’t sleep at all the first night.”
Fee quit his job as a clinical clerk during his last two years of medical school when he started working with patients, and he rented a house with two other students.
During this time, Fee met Eugene Stead, chief of medicine at Duke and founder of the physician assistant program.
“The first time I introduced a patient to his class, he said, ‘You’ve got a long way to go,'” Fee said. “And I said, ‘I know, but I’m going to get there. And he said, ‘I know.’ I never forgot that.
“Dr. Stead always encouraged us to read, ask questions, and consult reviews to make sure we were doing the latest treatments,” he said.
Fee said the next rotation he had with Stead, he read all of his articles and “I got through it.”
“Education is what you make of it,” he remarked, then added with a wink, “I graduated in the middle of my class, for your information.”
After four years of medical school, Fee interned at York Hospital before doing her residency and fellowship at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis.
This was interrupted from 1970 to 1972 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and took introductory exams as an Army doctor in Berkeley, California for two years.
“I was one of only two doctors who didn’t go to Vietnam,” Fee said. “I asked the guy who did my physical initiation how he got his job, and then I did exactly what he did.”
After his time in the military, Fee completed his residency from 1972 to 1974, when he began looking for a place to set up his own practice. A friend of Franklin Hospital internist Dr. James Houser told him about Franklin.
Fee said it was raining when he landed at Venango Regional Airport in March 1974. “For some reason as soon as I set foot I knew ‘this is where I want live,'” he said.
He has lived in the area ever since, becoming an internist at Franklin Hospital and establishing his private practice, Chest Medicine Associates, in 1974.
His practice was first located on 15th Street Hill, then on Prospect Street in Franklin. Then he moved to 3512 Route 257 in Seneca before joining UPMC in 2014.
During those years, he took medical students on his tours with him and became the 1983-1984 Teacher of the Year for the Family Medicine Residency Program at Franklin Regional Medical Center.
He met Joyce in the intensive care unit at Franklin Hospital, where they both worked caring for patients. They bought their farm, Seldom Rest Farm, in 1982, where they have cows, horses, a donkey, chickens and several cats.
“I get up early in the morning, like 5:30 or 6 a.m., and do chores,” William Fee said. “The house is heated with firewood, as is our hot water. My hobby is splitting firewood.
“He’s very, very busy,” Joyce Fee said. “He is very directed in what he does, but the patient always comes first. Not that family isn’t important; This is not what I mean. He’ll be home late from the hospital and I’ll do what I have to, because the patient comes first.
The patient also comes first at sporting events, which William Fee has attended as a volunteer doctor for over 25 years.
“I do it for free,” he said, “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Last year, he was inducted into the Franklin High School Hall of Fame for his medical services to the school district.
The Fees’ only child, Andra Lee-Mulhearn, played basketball and softball in school and is now a pulmonary intensive care specialist at Meadville Medical Center.
She is married to Dr. Nicholas Mulhearn, a pediatrician at Meadville Medical Center, and they have two children, ages 6 and 8.
“Lately I’ve been the driver, so I see them a lot,” Fee said of her grandchildren. “It’s one of the things I look forward to the most after retirement: spending more time with my grandchildren.”
He also enjoys fishing, playing racquetball and singing in community choirs.
Fee said the medical field has “really changed” since he became a doctor.
“Before, it was nicer than today,” he said. “The physical exam was part of how you diagnosed the patient because you talked to him. In my opinion, everyone needs a human touch, and we don’t have that anymore.
Now, with machines and scanners, Fee said the focus is “on the technology first rather than examining and caring for the patient”.
He also remarked on the “centralization of medicine” and the loss of control of individual doctors, in which insurance companies have become “the bosses because they have all the money”.
“One of the low points in my career was the advent of electronic medical records,” he said. “They had good points, but the downside is that you focus more on the computer than on patient care.”
But Fee said the community and the “brilliant colleagues” he has worked with over the years at Franklin have been wonderful. He also praised the collegiality between doctors.
“There was tremendous community support,” he said of Franklin Hospital. “The administration was pro-doctor and determined to make a quality hospital. We got the equipment we needed – we got the first CT scanner in the area. »
And he praised his “awesome” office staff.
“We have some that have stayed with us for 20, 30 years,” he said. “Nurse practitioners and physician assistants over the years have been wonderful.”
Fee said he instituted a journal club in his office in which once a month everyone in the office would submit a medical journal article.
“I want to be remembered for caring for patients, doing the right thing, putting the patient first, and being kind and compassionate,” he said.
Joyce Fee added that he “always enjoys taking care of patients” and still plans to attend school sports games.
“He’s a very humble soul,” Joyce Fee said. “It’s not about him, it’s about the patient.
“It’s the culmination of a life well lived,” she added.