After 13 years serving as the medical director at Good News Clinics in Gainesville, Dr. James “Jim” Butts is retiring from the volunteer position.
Butts, 83, came to the clinics after retiring from a 40-year career as a medical oncologist at Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic, which he helped found with three other physicians.
“When you've got someone with his experience and training steering your ship and helping lead your clinic, the outcomes are really positive,” said Liz Coates, executive director of the clinics. “The level of patient care I think has been incredible under his leadership.”
As medical director, Coates said Butts has provided oversight for all of the clinics’ mid-level providers, like nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. He’s also the one they look to for help with some of the most complicated cases they see.
Good News Clinics offers medical and dental care at no cost to low-income, uninsured people and families in Hall County.
“Essentially, he’s provided all the clinical leadership and guidance and decision making for Good News Clinics for these past 13 years,” Coates said.
Butts came to Good News Clinics because he wasn’t quite ready to fully retire from medicine when he was 70. On top of that, he knew if he didn’t take the job when former interim medical director Dr. Greg DeLong asked him to, he might — quite literally — never hear the end of it.
“My partner Sam Poole had put in a lot of energy and built this up,” Butts said of the clinics’ first medical director who died in 2006. “And I’ve said before, if I ever meet Sam Poole in heaven, and didn't take that job, he'd be mad at me.”
Butts’ decades of medical experience gave him the opportunity to teach everyone he came in contact with. It wasn’t just the medical students, but the staff and patients, too.
“It gave me a good bit of fulfillment,” Butts said. “Instead of just dropping out of medicine and not trying to keep up and just letting it go by, it has given me something to strive to keep up. It's been a challenge, and as I get older and older, I guess it's more and more of a challenge.”
He said there comes a time when physicians need to retire. He felt his time was now, so he’s cutting back on his volunteer work and will wean himself off seeing patients.
“I didn't want to stay in too long,” Butts said. “Somewhere along the line … somebody has to blow the whistle and I decided to blow it on myself. Nobody told me that I was incompetent, but I decided I didn't want to struggle.”
His role at the clinics will now be split, as the clinics have grown over the years. Coates said Drs. Heidi Nicholson and Mark Henson will take on the leadership role Butts is leaving behind.
“Dr. Butts has big shoes to fill,” Coates said. “(They) are going to essentially share the load that Dr. Butts has carried independently for these last 13 years as we move forward, having grown tremendously and realizing that it's extremely time consuming for a volunteer position.”
As that transition takes place and Butts makes the move to not seeing patients any longer, he said he’s looking forward to playing more golf, tending to his cattle on his 165-acre farm in southeast Hall County and spending a lot more time with his grandchildren.
Coates said he’ll be missed around the clinics. He’s become such a part of the “family” that the staff there “do things for him that are out of the ordinary because they love him so much.” They always have his coffee and breakfast roll on his desk before he walks in — a routine that will be hard to break.
“He is so loved and well respected,” Coates said. “It's going to feel like a beloved teacher has left because I think that's what he's been in so many ways.”