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‘Country girl,’ city doctor

Published on Monday, August 31, 2015

By: Gary Pettus,

Published in News Stories on August 31, 2015

Maybe it was because of that story she heard about her dad, the ambulance-riding dairy farmer of Webster County.

Maybe it was knowing that her father always wanted to become a doctor himself.

Maybe it was those A's in science and math.

Or it was all those things and more that set the inevitable course of the life and career of Dr. Barbara Goodman ('89), family medicine physician and one of only a few women to lead the UMMC Medical Alumni Association. 

It was always pretty clear that she was destined for a career in medicine, even if she once debated whether to care for patients who walked on two legs or four.

"I guess I picked people over animals," she said.

No one who knew her during her youth, no one who knew her family, should be surprised that she became the person she is today.

Like her mother before her, she was the smartest student in the graduating class at Eupora High, endowed with a strong stomach and brain for animal biology.

Like her father, she'd always had a heart for the sick and injured.

Why not a doctor?

Bennett Bigbee, a railroad employee, has been Goodman's patient since 1999. She also sees his wife and four children.
Bennett Bigbee, a railroad employee, has been Goodman's patient since 1999. She also sees his wife and four children.

Growing up in the small, north-central Mississippi town of Eupora, she learned from her parents discipline and respect for others; she was told to avoid giving advice unless someone asked for it. 

"Y'all don't always listen to my advice anyway," she tells members of her family.

In Eupora, with a current population of under 2,500, she and a girl named Jan, in particular, hit it off.

"There were about 110 in our high school graduating class, and she was the smartest one in the class," said Jan Entrekin, business manager for the Mississippi Public Health Institute.

"She and I probably became closer in college, when we were in the same dorm and then in the same sorority. But she will always be my friend, which says a lot about her character and who she is." 

Entrekin, the former Jan Williamson, lives in Madison, a metropolis compared to the community Goodman calls home.

"I'm a city girl," she said. "Barbara has always been a country girl. When my own girls were younger, they loved going to her house in the country to ride horses and four-wheelers.

"They don't know her as Dr. Goodman. They know her as Miss Barbara. Mom's friend."

Their mom's friend lives about 16 miles southeast of Meridian in the wryly-named community of Whynot - famous as the birthplace of Temptations lead singer David Ruffin and for the Whynot Motorsports Park.

Although her husband Van Goodman, an insurance-claims adjuster, was brought up in the Mississippi Delta, his family is from Whynot, located about 100 miles south of his wife's hometown.

They were married the year she graduated from medical school, and have since returned to his family's roots on secluded Sam Goodman Road, named for Van's great uncle.

It was during her third year at UMMC that they had been introduced through a mutual friend, Scott Coopwood, who had "always known she was going to go to medical school."

Now the publisher of the Cleveland-based Delta Business Journal and other publications, Coopwood remembers their undergraduate years in Oxford, where Barbara Bowen would "find a quiet spot on the second floor of the library at Ole Miss, open up those big, thick books and go to town.

"She just had it," Coopwood said. "She was perfectly suited for that physician role - high morals, integrity, well-focused, someone you can always count on."

These are the values she is trying to pass onto daughter Grace, 17, and son Adie, 15 ½, in her life outside the clinic, which she describes as "children, cooking and lots of trips to Sam's."

The Goodman's oak-sheltered wood-frame house is also home to at least one cat and a couple of elderly dogs who greet visitors in the driveway. They represent the newest branches on Goodman's pet-family tree, which was planted during her childhood.

Whenever thunderstorms shook the house she grew up in, she was the only one in the family who could coax their dog out of hiding.

"She would bite everyone else," Goodman said. After another animal almost chewed the small hunting dog to death, it was Barbara who nursed her back to health.

"I fed her chocolate-covered peanuts," she said. "Which, looking back, was probably bad for her."

While in high school, she worked at the local vet's office, giving shots, cleaning kennels and assisting with surgery.

"She loved animals," said Donna Bowen Cummins, Barbara's younger sister by 1½ years. "And our dad was always interested in medical things; I guess he steered us that way.

"I believe he would have gone to college if he'd had the chance, but he had to go to work to help out his family."

Cows and c-sections

Cecil Bowen was one of eight children; as soon as he was old enough, he delivered milk for Bowen's Dairy, the family business.

For years, until about the time Barbara was born, the Bowens ran the Dairy Bar, a fast-food paradise of milk shakes, ice cream and hamburgers that became a Eupora hangout.

As a girl of 9 or 10, Barbara would ride with her dad during the summer in an open-sided delivery truck, crisscrossing the roads of Webster County on milk runs to the local businesses and stores like the Piggly Wiggly.

An avid water-skier, she was steeped in the waters of Grenada Lake, not to mention the teachings of the Baptist church, where she was active in the youth choir, the Girls In Action (GA's) and Acteens.

Also a Girl Scout, pianist and champion athlete in tennis doubles, she made a name for herself at Eupora High.

"The first-born is usually the leader type," Cummins said. "And she's always been pretty strong-willed."

She considered a career in accounting, but her father let her know he wouldn't mind if she went to dental or medical school - something he was never able to do.

Mercy hearse

Back in the '50s, there was no hospital in Eupora, but there was a clinic. There was no ambulance, but there was a funeral home. Whenever there was a wreck on the highway, Cecil Bowen would help ferry the injured to the clinic in a hearse.

On those mercy trips he might have remembered his own father's fatal car accident years before. "That memory probably influenced my dad to encourage me to pursue medicine," Goodman said.

If pulling people out of wrecks was as close as he came to a medical career, by contrast, both of his daughters had the means, ambition and grades to study medicine. Their mother Helen, now 84, was the valedictorian for her high school class in Eupora, and her daughters made it three-for-three among the women in the family.

"We were competitive about that," Cummins said. "I guess because Barbara was one, I wanted to be one. But we used to laugh and say it's a little easier to be valedictorian when there aren't too many people in your class."

Cummins, who had considered becoming a pediatrician, is now a physical therapist in the Rankin County area.

Her older sister applied to veterinary school and medical school and was accepted to both. "I didn't know anyone near my age who became a doctor," Goodman said. "But my dad knew I could do it."

M.D. or D.V.M? She remembers exactly what she was doing the day she came closer to a decision: "I was in a pasture doing a C-section on a cow," she said.

"When you're doing that on a cold, dark morning, you think, 'I might not want to do this every day.'"

No-Rush job

At Primary Care Associates in Meridian, Goodman and staff nurse Holly Hurst, LPN, examine an X-ray. Goodman is one of four physicians at the clinic.
At Primary Care Associates in Meridian, Goodman and staff nurse Holly Hurst, LPN, examine an X-ray. Goodman is one of four physicians at the clinic.

She ended up delivering babies instead - about 100 at UMMC alone. In the School of Medicine, her instructors included Dr. Arthur Guyton, the legendary chair of physiology.

On some cases she scrubbed with Dr. Winfred Wiser, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"I chose family medicine because I didn't want the lifestyle or the hours it would take to do some of the other residencies," Goodman said. "Also, I like the idea of taking care of different family members, and having the knowledge to take care of a variety of things."

The Mississippi State Department of Health provided her with much of that knowledge. For a while, she worked for the agency in a family-planning clinic, where she treated cases of sexually-transmitted disease and high-risk pregnancies. 

Before that, she worked a year for North Mississippi Medical Center's clinic in New Albany.

In 1997, she arrived at Primary Care Associates for an interview, pregnant with her first child. "But I didn't know I was pregnant," she said.

She got the job and kept it. Affiliated with Rush Health Systems, which runs the local hospital, the clinic employs a nurse practitioner and four physicians, counting Goodman.

Because of her work, she has missed her kids getting dressed for Halloween, and occasionally has been late getting them to school events.

"It's things like that because I stayed at the clinic," she said. "Nobody tells me 'you can't be off for this or that,' but I don't want to be the only doctor who leaves early all the time."

Time is what she tries to give her children and her patients. Her average daily patient load is about 20, but it could be higher. "I like taking the time to talk to my patients," she said.

"I try to learn their habits and temperaments and their financial condition. Being their family physician means knowing when they can't afford that medication; it's knowing they're not going to do that test.

"If they can't or won't do what you ask them to do, you haven't done anything.

"Sometimes they don't have the words to describe what they're going through. So it's sitting in the room long enough to figure out what the problem is. It's knowing what they mean when they say it."

Her patients are very loyal, said Dr. Michael Nanney, one of Goodman's Primary Care colleagues.

"She's very patient with them. And when people come here with challenges in their lives, she can talk to them about it, because  she's had them, too."

Questions and quandaries

Dr. Barbara Goodman with daughter Grace and husband Van
Dr. Barbara Goodman with daughter Grace and husband Van

One of her challenges, professionally speaking, is crusading on behalf of her own specialty. A member of UMMC's clinical medicine faculty, she supervises third-year medical students on their family medicine rotations at Primary Care.

"One of the things I try to teach them is to spend time with patients," Goodman said. "You could do it fast and not be wrong very often. But the more you learn about them, the more knowledge you have to take care of a variety of things.

"It's a bad day when I have to look something up in a book."

Still, she said, "I can't think of one student who chose a family medicine practice after coming through the clinic."

According to people who know her, that could hardly be for a lack of credentials or charisma on her part.

"She's very personable," Nanney said. Hoping to put that personality to work for them, members of the board of the UMMC Medical Alumni Association asked her to serve as the organization's president.

Goodman's children, from left, Grace and Adie
Goodman's children, from left, Grace and Adie

In the fall of 2014, she completed her one-year term drumming up financial support for the association as one of only about five women to ever hold that position, compared to more than 50 men.

Her medical knowledge is also impressive, Nanney said.  "If I have a question about immunizations, I go ask her. She's the Complicated Question Lady."

Listening to her friend talk about her patients, Entrekin knows she cares about them. "Her career is a priority," she said, "but so is her family. And I know that her husband really helps out a lot."

But, torn between her patients and her home life, Goodman sometimes wonders if she is doing all she can for either.

"Having kids and being a doctor means putting pressure on yourself," she said. "You believe you can't really be as good at anything as you could be."

Nanney, her physician colleague, has no such doubts about her. "She's a family doctor and a family lady," he said.

"When I think of a doctor, she's the kind I'd want to go to. In fact, my family goes to her."