DEMOPOLIS, AL (WSFA) - Alabama faces a shortage of family care doctors, especially in the Black Belt. One of Marengo County's few family practitioners is leaving and heading to Montgomery, but the reason he's doing it, has a greater purpose.
A car accident in 2002 may have affected Dr. Erik Lessman's speech, but not his passion for serving others.
"My field of practice is so broad, I'm an ER doctor half the time, I'm in the general psych program, I do OB care, I'm a family doctor. I affect most of the town."
Dr. Lessman runs the Black Belt Clinic, a practice that serves Marengo and Sumter counties. Studies show the Black Belt counties are under served by family practitioners and other doctors.
"Income is low, but high blood pressure and diabetes is high, so it falls on generalists to do what specialists do in other cities," Dr. Lessman said. "There's more needed than I can do. And trying to recruit someone to Demopolis is hard."
So after five years, Dr, Lessman is closing his practice in Demopolis and heading to Montgomery. He will join the faculty at the Montgomery Family Medicine Residency Program - based at Baptist Medical Center South. Dr. Lessman hopes to train doctors that will then go and work in rural areas.
"If I can't recruit them, I'm going to train them," Dr. Lessman said.
Dr. Tom Kincer, the program's director, said Dr. Lessman is perfectly positioned to provide insights about practicing medicine in rural Alabama.
"You tend to be out there by yourself, you don't have all the sub-specialists to be able to refer to, so you have a broader knowledge base and a willingness to accept more risk in practicing," Dr. Kincer said.
Dr. Lessman said he's ready for a new challenge, but worries about the patients he's leaving behind.
"Sure am, daily, because when I leave, there will be some holes and I don't see anyone now to fill them, it's hard," Dr. Lessman said.
Despite those worries, Dr. Lessman feels taking a step back from his practice now, will improve health care in the Black Belt in the future. He hopes to continue doing an emergency room rotation in Demopolis once a month. He begins his new position after the first of the year.