Talking Shop with Byron Glenn, M.D., Cape Urgent Care

Monday, January 18, 2010
Dr. Byron Glenn at Cape Urgent Care (Fred Lynch)

On Monday many Southeast Missourians paused to reflect on the life of Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American remembered by some for his fight and struggle for equality among the discriminated. While Byron Glenn never fought that battle, the Cape Girardeau physician board certified in family medicine overcame a different battle as a boy in the poor section of San Francisco, Calif. Glenn eventually moved from the area that he had lived in since he was 1 year old to Carbondale, Ill., during his junior year of high school. Glenn then served a stint in the Air Force, Southern Illinois University and University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago as a student, Oakland, Calif, for a surgical internship and several other Southeast Missouri cities before opening his own practice, Cape Urgent Care, on Jan. 1, 2001. Today, Glenn and his wife, Aminah, have three sons, Ghaffar, Eddie and Anwar, and a daughter, Medina. Business reporter Brian Blackwell sat down with Glenn last week to learn more about his life, the business of medical care and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Q: What was it like opening your own practice?

A: Daunting. When you're in medical school they don't teach you about starting businesses. So it was a learn-as-you-go-along deal. I installed software myself. It helped [that] I was a little geeky because I am a Mac person. The software program I purchased then continues to run today, though it's been updated through the years. Initially there are a lot of hurdles with licensing and getting credentials with various insurance companies. It was three months before I saw a check. And that was the toughest three months since I opened. After that it got a little better.

Q: Was running your own medical practice everything you thought it would be?

A: It wasn't anything like I thought it would be. The best part of having your own practice is having the autonomy in making your own decisions about patients and management. Getting paid from insurers including Medicare and Medicaid can be best described as horror. Initially once you get over those hurdles, it's not that difficult. Getting paid from a lot of insurers can be like pulling teeth. The best part about it is the autonomy I have in clinical decision making. The toughest part is the business aspect of it. In medical school they don't teach you how to run a business. They teach you to take care of sick people.

Q: The health care debate has generated a lot of interest, and physicians especially must have a professional interest. What is your view on this topic?

A: The initial bill of 1,000 pages was a pretty good bill. They've since written another bill that's 2,000 pages long and worse. I don't think our senior citizens and general population that can't afford health care aren't getting the best deal they could have gotten. It's a step in the right direction but it's a bit convoluted. There will still be people left out. Anytime they force you to purchase something, I think we've crossed the line. It's not a problem for me, but I can imagine a person who can't afford to pay for it [and] ends up in jail. I have a fairly good Medicare population and they aren't going to be better off as far as I can tell. The new proposed bill will take money away from some programs. I'm for the single-payer universal deal. But our president took that off the table before it ever got on. It's not the answer, but it's more even-handed than the approach we're taking now.

Q: You visit nursing homes on Sundays. Fill us in more on why you do that on your day off.

A: I have patients at three nursing homes in the area. I serve as their primary care physician. I try to see them once every one or two weeks. A couple of the patients were originally my patients here and got older and needed care. I continue to be their physician.

Q: You seem like quite the busy man. What do you do in your free time?

A: I have a small amount of acreage in Bollinger County near the Castor River area. I try to get out there and look at artifacts and fossils. I also try to provide an improved wildlife habitat. I grow wheat in the winter and corn in the summer that provides a natural habitat for some of the animals. I also have a cabin and do fishing to relax. One reason I moved back to here was because I didn't like the concrete jungle. I like the pace and the friendliness of the people here. In the city they're colder and the atmosphere wasn't as warm or as inviting.

Q: What was it like living in San Francisco?

A: It was a rat race. I still visit there because my mother and sisters live there. After two or three days it's too much of a hassle. It's a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. It's overcrowded and a lot of homelessness. There are pretty things there but the city leaves a lot to be desired. I grew up there as a poor young boy in the projects. We later moved out of the projects not far from there. Most of the things were out of reach when I lived there as a boy. Now, anything that I thought I might have wanted there I no longer cared for.

Q: What was it like growing up in the projects?

A: My wife and I met in college. She was from a rural area in Malaysia and I was a poor boy in the city. I had to deal with gangs, murder and crime. I wasn't an angel and that's why I ended up back here. I'll admit I had a couple of trips to juvenile hall. I never had to stay but those trips were meaningful. I look back now and most of those people never got out of that situation. They're either deceased or very downtrodden. It was an area like this that allowed me to flourish and explore more possibilities and inspired me to do more.

Coming back to Cardondale and finishing high school there, I saw things differently. A lot of streets were still dirt roads and it was much a better atmosphere. I saw in my classmates people doing well, and it made me believe I could do anything I wanted to. Whereas [if] you grow up in the poor part of the city you think you'll never get out.

Q: What is it like practicing medicine as an African American?

A: There are a couple of truly African American physicians in this area. What I find most interesting is here very few people see me as an African American physician. It hasn't been an obstacle. It hasn't been an advantage. It has been an experience. When I first opened, people may have had some preconceived ideas of what I was like, but throughout the years as they have come to know me, I don't think my patients see me as an African American. I'm proud to say I've been well received in this community and that's comfort enough. I can give you horror stories elsewhere.

Q: What does Martin Luther King Day mean to you?

A: I didn't know the man personally, only from news articles and television about how he brought equality for the Negro in society. His dream of one day all men should be treated equal was a bold statement. And from my perspective I don't feel that I have been treated any less than equal. I think a lot of African Americans want to carry a chip on their shoulder and they want to feel they are at a disadvantage and somehow will try to rationalize that. In my mind no one is at a disadvantage unless it's in their own mind. No one is going to hand you anything. Any one of us has had to work just as hard, if not harder, than the guy next to us to get where we are today. It was determination, perseverance. I don't think anyone is at a disadvantage. Martin Luther King is a day when a man spoke up for all the rights of those [who were disadvantaged] in the 1960s. It wasn't just about the black man but the yellow man, the red man, the white man. I don't think it's a skin color. You have some people who would love to beg to differ. But anyone in this country can be anything they want to be if they put their heart, soul and mind to it.

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