After delivering between 3,000 and 4,000 babies, Dr. Tom Koksal, M.D., can finally retire to his humming clocks, family and future travels after 38 years of service to Garden City residents.
Koksal spent almost four decades working at Plaza Medical Center as a family care specialist. A Garden City native, Koksal’s practice covered the gamut, but he says he values the roles he played as a teacher and a midwife most.
On Wednesday afternoon, Koksal relaxed in his home in a living area peppered with all manner of clocks that make it hard to imagine he would ever struggle with punctuality.
Koksal recounted that he grew up in Garden City before attending the University of Kansas. He said the option at the time was between medical school and dental school, and after successfully being admitted to both, he decided to take the medical route. His son now works as a dentist, “so I can’t speak too badly about it, but I think I made the right decision,” Koksal said.
Fast-forward about 40 years and Koksal has delivered countless babies across two or three generations, giving him a crucial role in innumerable Garden City families.
He says he has mixed feelings about his retirement, “but I think it was time after 38 years,” he said.
Koksal began working at Plaza in 1979. When Koksal began working at Plaza. At 28 years old, Koksal was about to begin a career that would make him a medical staple of the community, a position through which he would touch the lives of thousands.
Koksal said the medical landscape in Garden City has changed a lot over four decades. He noted that private medical practice in Garden City is a rarity in the current era, and most physicians are employed by St. Catherine Hospital.
Koksal also has worked as county coroner, but what he truly enjoyed was his role helping mothers give life to their children.
“That’s been really special,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity, having been here for that long, to have delivered several generations. I delivered a baby who then grew up and delivered their baby, and even have delivered the third generation in some of those cases. That’s a special relationship.”
In his family practice, Koksal has taken care of babies, parents and grandparents.
“It’s kind of a birth to death situation as far as the ages and breadth of what we do in family medicine,” he said.
Koksal said Plaza held a retirement commemoration for him Sept. 28. He noted that attendees included mothers he had midwifed, as well as a patient who was his first-grade teacher.
“It’s been very rewarding,” he said.
Koksal said he hopes his retirement gives him and his wife, who retired from her teaching position last year, more flexibility. They plan to spend more time with their grandchildren and do some traveling. Next week, they’ll head to Seattle and rent a car to drive down the coastlines of Oregon and Washington.
Then, it’s off to San Clemente, Calif., where Koksal said the last living relative of his parents’ generation — Uncle Gene — resides.
And much like Koksal was passed the torch 38 years ago, he, too, has passed the torch to two new partners at Plaza Medical — Dr. Brad Stucky and Dr. Rachael Svaty, who both recently finished their residencies at Via Christi Hospital in Wichita. Stucky’s older brother, Dr. Brian Stucky, already works at Plaza.
“So with my existing four partners and two new partners, that makes me feel awfully comfortable about retiring and not leaving my patients in a lurch,” Koksal said. “They can obviously get a good doctor, and in a small town, that’s kind of critical. I think if you retire and no doctors are taking new patients, it could be a challenge for your patients. Obviously, that kind of sealed the timing on when this retirement would occur.”
Koksal explained that teaching young medical students has been one of the most fulfilling parts of his practice. He said medical students come from various branches of KU's School of Medicine as part of three different rotations: a rotation between their first and second year that lasts two months, and two rotations for third- and fourth-year students that last six weeks.
According to Koksal, these “rural medicine clerkships” are some of the first chances young doctors get at hands-on experience. And for each student coming to southwest Kansas, Koksal occupied the role of regional site coordinator.
“Nowadays when they come here, they’ve not ever delivered a baby because in medical school you’re kind of the third or fourth person,” he said. “There’s residents and faculty members, so it’s kind of much more hands-on, so that’s been very rewarding to students. I think they’ve really enjoyed it.”
Michelle Spangler, a nurse at Plaza Medical who worked with Koksal for 17 years, said it was clear he enjoyed working across different generations of Garden City locals.
As for his personality, Spangler said Koksal is “pretty cut and dry.”
Spangler said she was intimidated by Koksal before getting to know him. She described him as “very stoic and quiet” with a tendency to say “odd things."
“But as you get to know him, you just realize he has an off sense of humor, and even though he doesn’t show emotion, he’s very compassionate and caring for his patients and would always go above and beyond for them… He’ll be greatly missed,” she said.
Spangler said staff called Koksal “the godfather” behind the scenes, “just because he was like the elder that was leading the younger generations of doctors into practice. He just kind of kept order and everyone just kind of knew to keep their place and not overstep their bounds.”
Nancy McBride, a patient advocate who worked with Koksal all 38 years he was at Plaza, described him as a “very intelligent, very dedicated man, with a good sense of humor and a great work ethic and a love of his family and his patients."
McBride said that for the duration of his career, Koksal never wavered in the qualities that made him a good doctor.
“He’s a good man and a great doctor, and our clinic and our community will miss him,” McBride said.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.