From his vantage point behind the check-out counter of his family’s pharmacy in Holyoke, Massachusetts, sixteen year-old Christopher Schmidt observed the way customers came in seeking his father’s counsel. He saw the trust those customers, mostly poor people without family physicians, had in his father’s advice. Doctors would also come into the pharmacy and engage his father in collegial discussions. Schmidt looks at that time as when he first made the decision to become a family practice physician.
In high school, Schmidt displayed an aptitude for science that was recognized by his biology teacher, who helped hone his enthusiasm into good study habits and encouraged him to achieve his goal of becoming a doctor. He graduated from UMass Medical in Worcester and after doing his residency at Lancaster General Hospital in Lancaster, PA, he and his wife, Deborah, started looking for job opportunities back in their native New England.
A membership in the Christian Medical & Dental Society led him to discover Robert Orr, M.D. in Brattleboro, who happened to be thinking of taking on a partner at the time. So with their first son, Eric, in tow, Chris and Deborah moved to Brattleboro in 1982. Three other children, Kurt, Rachel and Kristen, all born here in Windham County, followed.
Schmidt says Brattleboro Memorial Hospital has always been “very pro-physician” in his experience, and when he joined the emergency medicine staff on a full-time basis in 1990, he saw it as an opportunity to focus less on the business aspect of practicing medicine and more on the actual care of patients, especially the lower income patients like the ones who used to come into his father’s pharmacy.
“The new door and window of the hospital is the ER. We see a lot of people who don’t have a family doctor,” says Schmidt. “You have to care about everyone the same and that’s our goal.”
Schmidt became the Emergency Department Medical Director in 2007 and says that has given him a better perspective on the inner workings of a hospital and how to provide the best care for patients. Now he meets with BMH clinical administrators, state ED Director colleagues and outside consultants on how to better manage an emergency department through improved patient flow, advanced services and increased support staff. BMH’s emergency room is currently at least 25% too small to accommodate the amount of patients it sees, he’s learned, and he began donating to the capital campaign to help it and other BMH departments expand and better serve the community. Now he has agreed to chair the physician’s division of the annual fund in hopes of getting other doctors to do the same.
“The goal is one hundred percent physician participation. That’s the key, having everybody on board,” he says. “BMH wants doctors to have modern tools for modern medicine in tiny Brattleboro and they will go out and spend money to do that. They listen to the doctors and nurses when they describe what is needed for their patients. So why not support the organization that will support you? I’m a terrible salesperson, but if I can help express that to others and help advance the care of patients, why not give it a try?”