Dr. William Frank will be closing his family medical practice Dec. 30. On Thursday he talked about his practice, his thoughts on what he might do in the future, and about his role as a medical examiner. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

Dr. William Frank will be closing his family medical practice Dec. 30. On Thursday he talked about his practice, his thoughts on what he might do in the future, and about his role as a medical examiner. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD — Many folks know that Dr. William Frank sits in the fourth row at the 9 a.m. Mass at Holy Family Church, so it isn’t unusual for someone to tap the shoulder of the longtime family doctor, looking for help in a medical emergency. It is something that goes along with being a physician in the same community for more than three decades.

His practice is at 14 Winter St., where he and Dr. John McGuckin have shared space since Dr. Frank and his wife, Mary Frances, arrived in Sanford on Aug. 1, 1980.

“My desk has never moved,” he said Thursday.

He came to the area fresh from an internship and residency at the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center, after studying medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Since then, he has taken care of generations of Sanford and area residents. His practice numbers about 3,000. For perspective, that is 300 more people than the U.S. Census counted in the neighboring town of Alfred in 2010.

That changes soon. Dr. Frank is closing his solo family practice and Dec. 30 will be his last day.

He calls it transitioning, rather than retiring. Dr. Frank will be around, and he will be busy. He’ll be the president of the medical staff at Southern Maine Health Care, a commitment he estimated at 20 to 30 hours a month, and will continue to function as a medical examiner as he has for many years. He is entertaining other prospects as well and looking at options like mentoring other physicians.

“I have many interests in life I’ve not been able to explore, and interest in medicine I haven’t explored,” he explained.

His true love is forensics. Frank was recruited into the state’s medical examiner system in 1983.

“In forensics, it’s not the usual, but the unusual,” he said. “With every M.E. case, there’s something different.”

Recruited to Sanford by the former longtime CEO of Goodall Hospital, Peter Booth, Frank came to the area in 1980 because it was a community where he and others could practice medicine independently.

“We can practice medicine the way we want to practice it,” he said from his office Thursday morning. Elsewhere, family practice physicians weren’t always afforded hospital privileges, he said, particularly in more urban areas.

“In 1980 we were doing obstetrics, that was hard to do then in urban areas because of competition and it was hard for family doctors to take care of people in intensive care units,” he said.

By contrast. family physicians in more rural areas get  to know their patients, and the patients are comfortable with a continuity of care, he said. The familiarity puts them at ease.

Practicing in a small area has had challenges, however,  because there’s not always support at the ready, Frank said. 

“You have to know your oncology well and your cardiology well,” he said. “At 2 a.m., you really have to know your stuff.”

There were other reasons for moving here. Dr. Frank and Mary Frances, who recently retired from her career as a grade 7 language arts teacher, chose Sanford because they were looking to head back east — Frank was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York. They wanted to be near Boston, and they were looking for a community to raise their four children away from the seasonal population fluctuations prevalent at the coast.

As well as his medical practice and involvement with the medical examiner’s office, Frank helped start the state’s victim compensation board, which helps fund care for crime victims, paid by those who committed the crime. That can mean counseling for victims of sexual abuse or paying burial expenses, he said, pointing to the 1996 case when three nuns were murdered in Waterville .

In his capacity as president of the medical staff, Frank will represent all physicians at SMHC, working to formulate policy and to resolve any issues that arise. With the pending move by SMHC’s parent company, Maine Health, to consolidate spending decisions for its hospitals in 10 Maine communities, Frank said that’s an issue that will have to be addressed.

As he looks ahead, Frank, 65, will spend more time in forensics. He calls it being a witness for the dead, and seeing justice done. He recalled a 10-year-old case that had been pegged a suicide — but his examination of the pattern of injury and the story told by witnesses, didn’t add up. As it turned out, Frank determined the death was a homicide. The perpetrator was convicted of manslaughter.

“We look for inconsistencies. Something wasn’t right,” he said.

Frank, in his capacity as a family physician and medical examiner, makes a point to talk to family members of those who die unexpectedly. With suicide, he said, families often experience guilt because they didn’t see it coming, and, he pointed out, suicide isn’t always preventable. So he gives families his home and cell phone numbers, if they want to talk.

There’s nothing you can do for the dead, he said, but there is for the living.

As the practice winds down and is buttoned up, Frank will examine his options. He’s been talking to physicians at  Gosnell Memorial Hospice House, and said he’ll probably fill in for physicians on vacations. But he and Mary Frances have five grandchildren, and they want to spend more time with them. Plus, there’s bicycling,  fly fishing and turning more of their lawn into vegetable and flower gardens.

What all that means is there won’t be a move to warmer climes.

“We love being here,” he said. “I can think of no better place to live. I couldn’t have asked  for a better place to raise kids. It was providential I ended up here. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to practice medicine.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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