That’s what impressed the Country Doctor of the Year folks, a group from Staff Care and AMN Healthcare, affiliated national health care staffing companies that have presented the award since 1992 to physicians in communities with fewer than 30,000 people.
After reviewing a nomination sent in from Bösl’s daughter, committee members conducted a two-hour telephone conference with Bösl, then sent three members to interview him and talk to town leaders and patients. They returned to present his plaque at a recent banquet at Starbuck’s community center.
“I’m the first winner ever from Minnesota,” Bösl said. “After making two visits here in the middle of a cold winter, I wonder if they’ll allow any more from Minnesota.”
He chuckles, but there were tears in his eyes when he told his staff of eight nurses and technicians about the honor. They’ve all been with him the last nine years. Many predate Bösl’s arrival in 1981.
“We wouldn’t be here without him,” said Vicki Pieske, a lab technician. “He’s the epitome of what a county doctor should be: He’s very calming and never gets riled about anything, but he’s smart beyond any of our comprehension.”
Bösl, thin as a fishing pole and sporting a bushy gray mustache, wakes up at 5 a.m. every day. He built his house with a racquetball court and a basketball rim. He carved out a 300-yard fairway and putting green at his place on the lake, so he can practice when spring arrives.
“I derive my pleasure in short bits rather than saving up the whole year for a three-week vacation in Jamaica,” he said.
His schedule wouldn’t permit that. He’s on call seven days a week and begins each day driving 40 miles round-trip to the hospital in Morris. Lately, that’s meant squinting through blowing snow and navigating his Cadillac Escalade through subzero chills. He usually circles back to Morris every evening for a second inpatient check.
“He’s steadfast, conscientious and committed,” said Greg Rapp, a physician assistant. In his 12-plus years working with Bösl he recalls only one day the doctor couldn’t see patients. “His commitment and drive is always there.”
Last summer when a storm felled several trees on his property, Bösl chainsawed his way out of the driveway to make his morning rounds.
If Bösl weren’t in Starbuck, patients would have to go to Benson, Glenwood or up to Alexandria — a 50-mile round trip.
“That wouldn’t be a problem for young people, who would just hop in the car and go,” he said. “The problem with these rural counties like Pope County, is there are a lot of elderly here and it’s really inconvenient and expensive.”
He paints the picture by numbers. The average person sees a doctor 3.5 times a year. Take 10,000 people in the county. That’s 35,000 trips of 50 miles or roughly 1.75 million miles of annual medical commuting. At the IRS’s 50-cent-a mile-rate, that’s $875,000 a year.
Beyond the numbers, Bösl loves the broad spectrum of ailments he treats, as well as knowing other factors that might affect a patient’s health.
“We know all the gossip in the community and what people’s stresses are,” he said. “We understand relationships, who’s having trouble with a spouse or work, all of which impact someone’s health care.”
He regularly works with medical students from the University of Minnesota Duluth, which sends nearly half its young doctors to towns with fewer than 20,000 people. Many have come out and shadowed Bösl to learn the art of family practice medicine. Medical schools, he said, are increasingly keen on finding a balance in admissions by looking for students from rural areas who might be more willing to fill the void and address the pressing shortage of small-town primary care doctors.
Until then, Bösl will continue making those windswept rounds and cajoling patients whose ages range from prenatal to 90-plus.