BROOKINGS – In 1990, Richard Scott Hieb, a board-certified family medicine physician, was in private practice in Newton, Kansas, and looking to relocate.
Brookings came calling, and he answered.
“I got a letter in the mail that they were looking for a doctor in a town called Brookings,” the doctor said. “I knew Brookings because I’d come up here to moonlight a few times when I was in residency in Sioux Falls.
“My wife Brenda and I were looking for a medium-sized town with a college in it. I quick-checked all the boxes and came up and interviewed.”
He took the job at what’s now Avera Medical Group Brookings, and they stayed. Now at 67 years old, it’s time to retire. His last day of seeing patients is Feb. 26.
“My wife and I think it’s just time to kick back and take it easy for a little while.”
He admits that his retirement plans are “a little up in the air right now because of COVID.” However, the Hiebs will stay in Brookings.
“Hopefully we can do some traveling,” he said. “I do want to do some volunteer work. And we have several things lined up that have been put on hold because of COVID.”
One piece of volunteer work he’s considering is giving COVID-19 vaccinations.
“How are we going to get 800,000 people (the population of South Dakota is about 885,000) vaccinated in the state?”
COVID-19: gloves, masks and gowns
Like so many health care professionals across the country, Hieb has been up close and personal with the coronavirus. If he could in a few words describe its impact on him as a physician, one word would stand out: challenging.
“Definitely; definitely, it’s a big challenge,” he said. “I think all the physicians that are involved with this would say that. In Brookings, we’ve done a little better than other places. We never got to the point where we broke. We got close, but we were able to keep it together.”
“I think there’s definite fatigue,” the doctor added, as the nation moves into its second year of battling the pandemic. “It’s an everyday struggle. One of the things that happened initially, we shut down the clinic and then we kind of had to restructure everything we did, which was a good thing to do.
“It took a lot of effort for us to re-imagine how we’re going to practice and how we’re going to deal with things in this new environment,” Hieb explained. “It’s been a lot of thinking on your feet.
“A couple of our docs have done a great job of keeping on top of this. I’m very proud of them, my partners, for their ability to come up with new innovative ways to get things done so that we managed to keep on top of this.”
Some of that innovation, Hieb explained, included “altering the way that you practice, starting to put on masks and gloves and separating respiratory and potential COVID infections from the rest of the clinic, trying to figure out how to do those kinds of things.”
“It’s very interesting when you’re gloved and gowned and masked up completely,” he added. “It’s difficult to do the things that you normally do; it’s about twice as hard. It becomes cumbersome. You have to kind of plan your whole day around what you’re going to be doing.”
Changes in the tools of the trade
Hieb noted that the practice of medicine he began with when he hung out his shingle more than 30 years has changed over the years since he came to Brookings.
“One of the biggest changes has been the electronic medical record. You can argue that that’s good or bad,” he said, laughing a bit. “But it’s the new reality. You have to incorporate that into your practice.”
“Computerization allows rapid dissemination of information,” the doctor added. “So things that you might have had to wait six months to read in a journal, you can go online and get up-to-date information very quickly.”
Also during the years Hieb has been practicing medicine, the tools of the trade and treatment regimens have also greatly improved.
“CAT scans used to be really rare,” he said. “Matter of fact, I was in Sioux Valley Hospital as a resident when they did the first CAT scan in the state. Now they’re quite commonplace and we have MRIs, PET CTs and a lot of really good diagnostic tools.”
Additionally, Brookings health care facilities can now diagnose and treat a large number of medical and surgical conditions that in the past would have been referred to Sioux Falls.
“A part of that is because we have more specialists here,” Hieb said. “It’s very good expertise for taking care of those people.”
A lot to like about Brookings
Having practiced family medicine in Brookings for more than 30 years, Hieb has treated some families for several generations.
“I’ve loved delivering babies and watching those kids grow up. I take care of them, and I’ve even delivered one or two of those. It’s just wonderful to treat an entire family. I’ve just been honored and privileged to have the patients that I’ve had. They’ve been great people and if I’ve helped in one little way on their journey through life that makes my life worthwhile,” he said.
In addition to that love for the patient care, he provides families are the “so many things” he likes about Brookings. “I like the community. I love the college (South Dakota State University).
“One thing I’ve been proud of is the way that the medical community has grown in the 30 years that I’ve been here. It’s phenomenal.” When the doctor arrived and replaced one of them, there were 12 physicians. Now there are a total of more than 30 physicians, physician assistants and certified nurse practitioners in Avera Medical Group.
“The medical staff has really expanded. The offerings that the community gets right here in town are great.”
That his patients in the community are grateful for having Hieb as their primary care provider is evident in their rating him on the Avera website.
With 90 of them weighing in, he comes out with an overall grade of 4.8 on a five-star scale. Just a sampling of five stars includes: “… remarkably cheerful and supportive in these coronavirus times; … a superb physician. I am fortunate to have him as my principal provider of health care; … an amazing DR and he cares about you; … Brookings is extremely lucky to have him and his expertise. His awesome sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.; … Best Doctor There.”
By way of personal history, the doctor is a native South Dakotan, born in a Sioux Valley hospital. His parents, Dr. Bill Hieb, a general practitioner, and his wife Sally lived in Marion. They moved to Henderson, Nebraska, when Richard was 3 months old.
He graduated from high school there in 1972 and went on to Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1976. He attended medical school at the University of Nebraska (Omaha), graduating in 1983. Next came his internship at Sioux Valley Hospital, followed by a two-year Sioux Falls Family Practice Residency. He then practiced four years in Newton before moving to Brookings.
The Hiebs have three grown daughters and five grandsons. Two of the daughters are nurses “doing COVID work.”
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]