DALLAS — Dr. Tom Flaming said his interest in being a family doctor was hereditary.
His family, starting with his father, E.A. Flaming, has served the Polk County area since 1944. Tom joined his father’s practice after residency. Tom’s brother and cousin started working with the practice eventually, as well. With so many Dr. Flamings about, they adopted the use of their first names so patients could identify them.
Thus, Flaming is known as “Dr. Tom” by those who have seen him over his 41-year career in Dallas’ WVP Flaming Medical Center. Though the clinic will continue, at the end of this month, the last of the Flamings will step away as Tom retires on Dec. 31.
Over the years, Flaming has developed an almost family-like relationship with some of his patients. He and his father have treated multiple generations of a few local families.
“I’ve had a few folks tell that they’ve been here 70 years,” Flaming said.
He said he will miss those relationships the most as he transitions to retirement.
“The interaction with all the folks — the chance to hear about their stories, their lives,” he said when asked what he enjoys most about his job.
In case you are wondering, Flaming is keeping those stories confidential.
“I’ve compared myself to the distant uncle that comes to town that they tell a story to and then he disappears,” he said. “That uncle that you don’t really know, but you know that he’s not going to tell too many people.”
Flaming said many of the other doctors and staff members at the center have worked with him for decades, undergoing the changes in technology, methods for scheduling, and keeping notes and charts.
Some of those changes he didn’t particularly like — he prefers dictation to electronic note-taking because it sounds less robotic — but he appreciates those who helped him get through them.
Kathy Deaton, management services organization administrator, joined the clinic just a month after Flaming in 1977.
She said sharing 41 years at the clinic with Flaming was “very rewarding.”
“It’s been a joy to work with a solid, caring, compassionate physician. Of course, we’ve become colleagues and friends. We’ve experienced our families’ joys and sorrows together, as well as being trend-setters in medical practice,” she said. “We’ve always endorsed the most current opportunities and trends.”
She noted Flaming’s willingness to help people at home through the Polk Community Free Clinic or overseas on medical missions to Thailand and Cambodia with church groups.
“He learned to reach out on the mission field when they went on mission trips with their dad to Africa. That planted that practice early in their childhood and he’s just continued that,” she said. “He’s very humble. He’s not one to seek recognition. He is truly a servant. He has a servant’s heart.”
Flaming said he began taking the overseas trips in 2002, and goes about every two years. The last few trips have been to Hmong villages in the hills of Thailand. He said the group he travels with takes most of its supplies, and instead of using computers, they use note cards to document patient visits. He said translators are a necessity.
“I enjoy what I do, and it’s nice to get in a different environment,” Flaming explained. “The practice is different. The complaints, interestingly, are not that different. They’re backaches, and headaches and stomachaches.”
He said the people they visit host them — and the food is an experience much different than what you find at a typical Thai restaurant.
“It’s authentic,” he said. “They are cautious when they cook for us. It’s not quite as spicy as they would have it.”
Flaming said he will continue serving on those trips after retirement, but not right away.
“I had initially planned on doing some mission trips, but I think I was a little naive about making the transition, so I’m going to kind of slow down and see what happens,” Flaming said. “Between house and pets and kids, and a few different things — I’m going to take some time off.”
Deaton, who plans on staying on at the clinic and as the administrator of WVP’s six other clinics, said Flaming’s presence won’t easily be replaced.
“He’s a very calm stabilizer. Just having the compassion that he gives his patients and the staff as well,” she said. “He’s just been a great mentor. We are going to miss that.”
Flaming jokes that the staff won’t notice the absence of his “ill-humor and bad jokes,” but leaving his work family won’t be easy.
“Some of the staff have been here quite a while. Kathy and I have been sitting around here for a long time. Jeff, the other doc, has been here for 31 years,” Flaming said. “These are people … we’ve had an ongoing relationship with for a very long time.”