After 43 years of service one of Tamworth’s most respected GPs will hang up the stethoscope for the final time on Friday.
Following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, Dr Stephen Howle forged a career in medicine for a simple reason, to help people, and just like his forbears he has done just that.
In 1975, Dr Howle joined his father Don at what is now known as the Barton Lane Practice, one of the country’s oldest continuing practices, and has never looked back.
“My father always had a good life, and I could see that he helped people,” Dr Howle said.
“During training I had exposure to specialists, but thought I would get bored doing the same thing all the time - I would rather look after people than look after diseases.”
It is that caring but curious nature that will see Dr Howle, and his expertise and compassion, missed by hundreds of local families.
“Everyone reacts differently to diseases, and I always found that reaction far more interesting than the disease itself – I have seen some remarkable things,” he said.
“My patients have become like an extended family, I have followed them through their lives.
“I am going to miss it forever, and I will constantly be thinking of patients and how they are going.”
For the last few years Dr Howle has only been working part time at the practice, but has been kept busy by his work on regulatory boards, where he helps preside over decisions that fellow GP’s have made.
In many ways this led to his own retirement.
“I think you should retire before you start to make too many errors,” he said.
“Doctors can stay on too long - I have seen some making mistakes that they never would have years ago.”
Over that 43 years the clinical GP has seen it all, including giant leaps in treatments, as well as huge changes to the industry.
“Treatments have changed dramatically, and improved people’s lives dramatically.
“There is so much more that we can do with things like heart disease and cancer - it is amazing.
“The scope of most GP’s has changed a lot as well, we used to get called up to the hospital to deliver babies, deal with heart attacks or work in the kid’s ward, there were far less specialists.”
While Dr Howle isn’t retiring from the regulatory work just yet, he does have some grand plans for his new spare time, although it will still mean spending many hours with his head in books.
“I am going to do the usual things like traveling, and gardening, but I really want to understand more about major historical events and issues, particularly 19th and early 20th century issues,” Dr Howle said.
While the good doctor didn’t want to name any of the highlights from his illustrious career, he did want to praise the colleagues, patients and community that have become his “extended family”.
“I have been incredibly lucky to work in this town,” he said.
“I have been very fortunate to have great patients - and you do get a little ego boost when someone gets better.
“But I have also been very lucky to be surrounded by committed health professionals - the doctors, nurses, physios, psychologists, and everyone else that have helped patients through lots of trauma and issues in their lives.
“I will absolutely miss it.”