August 15, 2002
Bigger is definitely not better. At least not in the eyes of Dr. Cheryl A. Ferrier, who decided that the practice of medicine should be personal and more like "what it used to be."
After 3 1/2 years in a group practice with four other doctors and nearly 36,000 patients, this native of Trinidad with degrees from three universities recently tossed it all to become a single practitioner in Old Town Alexandria. In so doing, she not only is following her dream but has become a dream come true for 3,000 patients of a practice they thought had vanished.
In May 2002, Dr. Ferrier reopened the office of Dr. Candace S. Thurston at 1320 Prince St., re-establishing the long-standing practice of obstetrics and gynecology. Thurston began her practice of that specialty at that location in 1983.
"It was time for me to get to a more intimate practice," Ferrier said. "It's more like medicine used to be, where you get to know your patients and they get to know you."
After nearly 20 years of practice, Dr. Thurston decided to close her doors in March of this year. She sent out more than 3,000 letters announcing her intentions. "I was more than a little tired. It's a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day responsibility," Thurston explained.
"Then a friend of mine, who knew Dr. Ferrier, mentioned that she was considering going into private practice and might be interested in buying my practice," Thurston said. "She also wanted to work less than in a big practice and have more of a personal relationship with the patients."
Ferrier's former practice also specialized in women's health needs. "A lot of my patients have transferred to my new office, and Dr. Thurston's patients remained after they heard the office was not closing," Ferrier said.
"I'm really excited about the practice remaining open. The convenience of it being right here in Old Town is perfect for me, and it definitely serves a very real need," Francesca Trigiani Noon, a 10-year Thurston patient, said.
"It's so important to get to know one doctor and have them get to know you," she emphasized. Thurston has delivered all three of Noon's children.
Julia McClung, another longtime Thurston patient, echoed Noon's enthusiasm. "I'm thrilled that the practice has reopened. I was very disappointed when I heard it was closing and was not thrilled about searching for a new doctor," McClung said.
FERRIER CAME TO this country in 1985 at age 19 to study medicine. She planned to return to her native Trinidad to practice. After completing her undergraduate work at Howard University, she continued there to acquire her medical degree in 1993.
"I met my husband while at Howard [University], and that changed my plans of returning home," she said. From Howard she enrolled in the University of Maryland at Baltimore, where she studied internal medicine, and then went to the University of Pennsylvania for her specialty in obstetrics and gynecology.
Her parents and two of her brothers still live in Trinidad. Another brother resides in Silicone Valley, Calif., according to Ferrier. "We still go to the islands once or twice a year to see the family," she said.
Her husband, Dr. David Rose, is a vascular surgeon at Howard University Hospital as well as an associate professor and associate residency coordinator, according to Ferrier. "Acquiring this practice was a big move for me and for us," she exclaimed.
Ferrier and her husband have been married for nearly three years and live in the Kingstowne area. They have two children, two-year-old Andrew and 10-month-old Sammy. "I also needed more time to spend with my family as well as with my patients. This was a beautiful opportunity," Ferrier said.
"I'm in the office from 3 to 3 1/2 days a week, and Dr. Thurston is here one day a week. We also share calls. And we have another Alexandria physician who helps us with cross coverage on the weekends," she noted.
HER DECISION HAS also proved to be a "beautiful opportunity" for Dr. Thurston and their office staff. "The arrangement is perfect. I work one day a week and get to see patients that have been with me for years. The practice is alive and well, and Dr. Ferrier has a lot of energy and zest," Thurston insisted.
In addition to Ferrier and Thurston, the office staff consists of office manager Joyce Tall, medical assistant Cathy Damer, and receptionist Christen McClary. Tall worked with Ferrier at her former practice. "She has really helped me with the transition," Ferrier said.
McClary and Ferrier met at Inova Alexandria Hospital in 1998, where McClary's mother is a delivery nurse. She is also trained as a medical assistant. Damer is a native of the Washington area and received her medical assistant training in the U.S. Navy.
Although Thurston had closed the doors in March, everything was still intact when she and Ferrier came to an agreement. "It was just a matter of freshening things up a little," Ferrier said.
Thurston started her medical career at Baileys Crossroads. "I was only there for about a year when I decided I wanted to be in private practice and in Old Town. So I started looking for a one-story building so my patients wouldn't have to climb stairs," Thurston said.
"That's when I found this location. It had been an old railroad company store. The building next door was attached then, and the guys from the railroad used to sleep upstairs. The only other businesses around were a paint store and the Catholic Charities," Thurston recalled.
FERRIER'S DESIRE to be a physician dates back to her childhood. "I always wanted to do something in medicine and focus on the medical needs of women. But medicine as it was is gone. The old thing of knowing your doctor and vice versa hardly exists anymore. It's become too much of a business," she said.
"As the practice of medicine stands today, I would tell anyone thinking of becoming a doctor to first take a hard, long look. I can't see pushing any child to become a doctor unless they really want it.
"A lot of the practice is now controlled by managed care, and the money needed to get through medical school is excessive. It will take the average student 25 years to pay off their education debt. And then they have malpractice insurance to pay on top of everything else. Last year mine went up 30 percent," Ferrier stated.
Her desire to get to know her patients better got a recent boost from the news media. But not necessarily a welcome one.
On July 9, the Women's Health Institute took 16,000 postmenopausal women off hormone therapy because of fears about increased risk of breast cancer, blood clots and gallbladder disease. They also warned that hormones could potentially increase women's risk of heart disease.
"My phone started ringing off the hook. I was getting faxes and pages from women who were very upset," Ferrier exclaimed. "I've had to counsel many patients individually."
Ferrier, as many doctors have done since July 9, insists, "This latest hormone scare represents less than a 1-percent risk. That wasn't made clear. They played it up without clarification. With close follow-up, on a patient-by-patient basis, hormone replacement is still very valid."
It is Ferrier's hope to expand the practice "a little bit in the next couple of years" by taking in another full-time physician. "Mainly to extend our personal-care capabilities. But not to let it get so big that you forget why you became a doctor in the first place," she promised.