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Editorial: Good doctor, good citizen

Tom Witt arrived in Red Wing to practice medicine in the 1980s. Back then, the typical family practice doctor’s routine involved much less paperwork and much more one-on-one time with patients.

Times certainly have changed, he acknowledges. Doctors must document, document, document. They have thousands of new medicines — and their potential effects and interactions — to consider before prescribing one. They need to stay on top of cutting-edge technology used in diagnosis and treatment. And every year medicine’s knowledge base grows.

Yet the patient must remain the focus. That’s what the Hippocratic Oath — reworded below for the modern world — is all about.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Witt has risen through the Mayo Clinic Health System ranks and today is chief executive officer of the Cannon Falls, Lake City and Red Wing hospitals and surrounding clinics. Under his leadership both Cannon Falls and Lake City have new facilities and Red Wing left the Fairview system to become the hub for this corner of Mayo Clinic Health System.

For this growth and his administrative successes alone, the Goodhue County Editorial Association considered honoring Witt. He also is a primary care physician at heart and, several days a month, still a practicing one. His dedication, compassion and strong patient focus made his selection easy. He is the 2014 Goodhue County Citizen of the Year.