A typical day for John Otho “Rob” Marsh III (Col '78) starts around 6 a.m., when he heads to the Augusta Health hospital in Fishersville, Virginia, to do morning rounds for the patients he’s admitted.
After an hour or two, he runs errands or makes house calls, then reports to his clinic a half-hour away in Middlebrook, Virginia, with a population of just 213.
He heads home around 7 p.m. Occasionally.
“I follow my patients. I know it’s old-fashioned, but it is good medicine,” says Marsh. “I can practically recite their medical history from memory. It’s continuity of care.”
Since leaving a career in the U.S. Army in the mid-1990s that included numerous military honors, Marsh has devoted his life to serving as a country doctor in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where he grew up and where his father, John Otho Marsh Jr., was a congressman before becoming Secretary of the Army.
For his efforts to provide medical care to underserved rural populations—including establishing what is believed to be the only full-service truck-stop medical clinic in the nation—Marsh last year was named “Country Doctor of the Year” by Staff Care, a national physicians staffing firm.
Among the reasons cited for bestowing this award on Marsh is his willingness to make rural house calls, something few in his profession still do.
“When people let you in their homes, they are letting you into their lives,” says Marsh. “You can better understand problems that would otherwise not be seen. It’s not the most cost-effective way, but it’s good medicine.”
Marsh’s latest community outreach effort is that truck-stop clinic, located in Raphine, Virginia, off Interstate 64 and about 20 minutes from his home. He opened it in July 2012 to tend to the truckers, who, because of their itinerant lifestyles, often do not receive regular medical attention even if they have medical insurance.
The stop is considered one of the most important trucking hubs on the East Coast because it is located midway between Atlanta and New York. Each is 10 hours away—the maximum number of hours a trucker is legally allowed to drive daily.
“I’m seeing five or six truckers and 25 people from the local community a day,” Marsh says.
The country doctor award isn’t the only time Marsh has been noted for his indefatigable efforts. During his military career he was awarded two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Department of Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Meritorious Service Medal.
That’s not to mention the Purple Heart he received in 1993, four months after he graduated from the family medicine program at UVA.
Stationed in Somalia as a Delta Force flight surgeon, Marsh was hit and nearly killed by a mortar round during Operation Restore Hope, which is when the grisly events depicted in Black Hawk Down took place.
“A lucky mortar round got me,” says Marsh. “I felt pain and, when I came to, I got my bearings. I knew I couldn’t walk, but I could crawl.”
Marsh tried to direct care to others wounded by the same blast, but a severed femoral artery was draining his life. Only quick intercession by his medics and a fellow surgeon saved him.
At his Middlebrook office, Marsh uses several UVA medical school residents.
“My patients like the students because they get more and better care,” Marsh says. “The students benefit because they are working directly with the patients. And I benefit because it’s great to have someone to talk to. I’m by myself a lot out here.”
Peter Ham, an associate professor and director of the clerkship program at UVA’s Medical School, says Marsh led him into specializing in family medicine when he was a medical student.
“He admits patients, visits them in nursing homes and hospitals, and does an array of things that many doctors would refer out, like casting and splinting,” Ham says.
Now Ham sends his students to work with Marsh. “They are blown away by the experience,” Ham says. “He works the students the hardest of anyone.”
Staff Care’s country doctor award provides two weeks of coverage at the clinic of the winning doctor. Marsh was reluctant at first.
“I’m a little bit of a workaholic,” he says. “But I owe it to my family. We’ll take it easy at the beach, but I can stay in touch with my smartphone. Otherwise, I’d get nervous.”