Ortho doc opens island practice


Staff reporter

Kent Smillie remembers vacationing on Whidbey Island when he lived in British Columbia as a child.

That experience stuck in the mind of the aspiring doctor and, after he recently finished his residency, he settled on Whidbey Island as the place to start his family and build his practice.

“I wanted to work where I live and work with the people I enjoy,” Smillie said.

Keeping this in mind, he was recently hired on as the island’s newest orthopedic surgeon.

The island’s quiet atmosphere and the positive rapport he enjoys with the staff at Whidbey orthopedic surgeons were some of the reasons he chose Whidbey Island.

He doesn’t start his practice until early next year. That’s when the last of the paperwork authorizing him to bill insurance companies will be complete.

That gives him time to find a house and move his wife and dogs to the island.

Smillie recently completed his fellowship at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, received his M.D. from the Albany Medical College of Union University in New York, and he also holds a Masters in Kinesiology from UCLA.

He likes orthopedics because many of his patients are athletes and eager to get back to their sport.

“They’re motivated to get back into action,” Smillie said.

His interest in sports medicine means he hopes to work with local athletic programs and attend high school games.

Once he begins his work, he expects it will take him about a year to build the practice. He said that it takes that long for residents to learn of the extra surgeon instead of having to traveling off the island for medical help.

Even though Smillie’s hiring fills a need on the island, the hospital wants to eventually bring in another orthopedic surgeon.

However, Whidbey General Hospital is holding off on filling that spot for two years.

Smillie said it wouldn’t be productive to have two surgeons compete for the same pool of patients.

Smillie’s orthopedic surgeon position is part of a concerted effort by the hospital to bring more physicians to the island. About a year ago, the hospital hired Jan Rose to recruit new physicians.

Since that time, a family practice physician, two internists and an ob/gyn have started their practice on the island.

Rose pointed out that the epidural anesthesia recently offered by the hospital is now available around the clock.

The hospital is recruiting a urologist who is expected to start next summer and it is also in the market for another neurologist.

Rose said those positions have the greatest demand.

“We really try to keep our finger on the pulse of what care the community needs,” Rose said.

She said the hospital uses several strategies to lure doctors to Whidbey General. Those strategies range from offering full employment to subsidizing a doctor’s practice until he or she can find enough business to survive on their own.

With Smillie’s case, the hospital is partially subsidizing his practice for the next 36 months.

Whidbey General Hospital is guaranteeing that Smillie’s practice will bring in $225,000 a year as the practice is built.

Smillie said that money is basically a loan and would have to be repaid if he decides to leave the island.

He will also receive $75,000 to help take a chunk out of the $250,000 in student loans he currently owes.

Both Rose and Smillie said the financial arrangement was modest compared to others in the competitive doctor market.

Rose said she highlights the quality of life on Whidbey Island as a major selling point to bring in new physicians.

“We try and find people who are going to stay,” Rose said.

Officials hope that more local doctors translates into more people seeking care at Whidbey General Hospital.

According to a market study conducted by the hospital, approximately 32 percent of the orthopedic patients on the island seek care at Whidbey General Hospital.

“The orthopedic cases are significantly less than other diagnoses we commonly see,” said hospital CEO Scott Rhine.

Rhine hopes that percentage will increase when Smillie begins his practice.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at nwhalen@whidbeynews or 675-6611.

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