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Mountain Grove physician marks 40 years in practice

(L-R) Dr. David Barbe, Dr. Nathaniel Barbe and Dr. Robin Coffee of Mercy Clinic Family Medicine in Mountain Grove (photo taken July 28, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
(L-R) Dr. David Barbe, Dr. Nathaniel Barbe and Dr. Robin Coffee of Mercy Clinic Family Medicine in Mountain Grove (photo taken July 28, 2023)

Dr. David Barbe began his career as a doctor in 1983 in his hometown.

In 1983, Dr. David Barbe began his career as a physician in Mountain Grove, the town he grew up in and a place he knew he wanted to return to after medical school.

Forty years later, the Mercy physician is still practicing at Mercy Clinic Family Medicine– now alongside his son Nathaniel.

Recently, the clinic held an event marking Barbe’s long career and welcoming a new physician to the practice – Dr. Robin Coffey.

Dr. Barbe took time away from being greeted by patients to talk about his career in the healthcare field.

He said he’s often asked if it felt awkward returning to his hometown to practice medicine "because, you know, some of my patients were teachers that I had when I was in elementary or high school — a lot of people that, you know, knew my parents and were their friends, but it has been nothing but amazing and wonderful. It has been extremely professionally and personally satisfying to be able to give back to the community, to be able to serve those who, in many cases, have been underserved for quite some time."

Mountain Grove, he said, is a medically underserved area as are many rural areas in the state. That was one reason he and his wife, Debbie, who worked alongside her husband as a nurse, decided to move back home.

He grew his practice over time and added additional doctors and services.

They provided a full range of obstetrics for over 20 years, delivering babies in both Mansfield and Houston. He said they added x-ray services, provided a much broader range of bloodwork and offered a close connection to referrals and specialists in larger cities like Springfield.

"When you have coordination between your primary care physician and the specialist, that really makes a difference in the continuity of care," he said. "Things don't fall through the cracks as easily."

Today, the clinic offers a full range of primary care services for the entire family, including treatment of minor illness and injury, women’s health as well as physical exams and sports physicals, and it offers onsite lab and x-rays.

Mountain Grove is still a very economically challenged area, according to Barbe. There are still many people who are uninsured there, he said, despite the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri.

"That produces significant barriers. Then you add on top of that our rates of obesity, our continued rates of smoking, our rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases are generally higher in our service area here in south central Missouri than they are in many other parts of this state and, of course, many other parts of the country," he said. "So, we are dealing with a population that has a higher incidence of chronic disease."

But he said there are fortunately more tools to deal with that now and better and more affordable medications.

Barbe is a big proponent of health literacy – making sure patients have a good understanding of their own health — "what impacts their health and how they can be part of their own care. And I say, whenever there's an opportunity to say it, you know, 'I am only one very small piece of an individual's health. What they choose to do lifestyle wise, even in terms of following the advice that I give, that is what makes a big difference — the biggest difference in a person's health.'"

In 2017, the small town doctor became the 172nd president of theAmerican Medical Association, and in 2019, he was named president-elect of theWorld Medical Association, whose members include the national medical associations from 115 countries representing approximately 10 million physicians. He was inaugurated as WMA president the following year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The front page of the Wright County Journal with a photo of Dr. David Barbe shaking hands with Pope Francis.
Michele Skalicky
The front page of the Wright County Journal with a photo of Dr. David Barbe shaking hands with Pope Francis.

While the position usually involves about 20 international trips, most of his time as president was comprised of virtual meetings. But he did accept an invitation to the Vatican. In September, 2020, he traveled to Rome to deliver a speech on how the pandemic had affected physicians around the world. Other speakers included a Nobel Prize winner and the director for the Centers for Disease Control for all of Africa. After the meeting, there were about seven, including Barbe, who went to the top floor of the Apostolic Palace where they had an audience with Pope Francis.

"The leader of the meeting, the archbishop who was in charge of the meeting, grabbed me by the arm, took me to the front row center," he said, "so, I was seated about 15 feet maybe from the pope, and he was there in the room with us for almost 30 minutes."

At the end, Dr. Barbe got the chance to shake the Pope’s hand. Soon after, a photo of him doing so made the front cover of the Wright County Journal.

While that’s a significant moment in his life, it’s the relationships with his patients that he holds most valuable. Barbe said he’s seen many of his patients for years.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.