End of an era

Doctors Craig Weaver (left) and Matthew Vierkant will hang up their stethoscopes at the end of the month, nearly two decades after helping found Jacksonville’s Catholic hospital.

As the month of February draws to an end, so does an era at CHRISTUS Mother Frances – Jacksonville: Its remaining two founding physicians will retire from practice.

“We’re the last of the people that started out, of the original six or seven,” said Dr. Craig Weaver, a family practice physician with 30-plus years of experience.

“It went very quickly,” said Dr. Matthew Vierkant, an internal medicine practitioner with nearly 30 years under his belt.

Weaver, originally of Houston, graduated with a medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1987, completing his residency in family medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Tyler and an internship at Louisiana State University. He has been a licensed physician in the State of Texas since 1988, and two years later, in 1990, formed a practice with a brother who had moved to Jacksonville several years before. 

Jacksonville native Vierkant, on the other hand, attended the University of Texas at San Antonio from 1987 to 1991 and completed a residency in internal medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

He has been a licensed physician in the state of Texas since 1992; in 1994, he became board-certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine.

At one point, each had worked at Nan Travis Hospital, then joined Trinity Mother Frances Clinic in the mid-1990s. In January 2001, they were among the first doctors on staff at Jacksonville’s Catholic hospital.

Weaver wanted to focus on patient care, something that was more challenging to do in a private practice.

“I wouldn’t have to worry about (running a business) or the insurance, or the delivery days … that was really my goal, to just do patient care and not all the other stuff,” he said.

Vierkant joined the new hospital because of the opportunities it would provide for his patients.

“With internal medicine, you’re dealing with an older patient population who may have trouble getting to the specialist, getting to the hospital. By bringing it all here, you bring it to their front door: The quality of care, and more clinics,” he explained.

Recalling the early days of the hospital, Vierkant said there was “a lot of work, because basically, it was the first place they had something like this with an outreach, and we set the rules as we went.”

The upshot, he added, was that in working as part of a hospital system, there were other doctors to help with the patient load because they “specialize in hospital care and you’re not having to do everything.”

It created a win-win situation for their patients, some of whom were without resources to travel to Tyler for doctor visits.

“Just getting up (to Tyler) is a burden for a lot of people,” Vierkant said. “And that was the whole goal of this place: To bring local access, instead of people having to go to Tyler. To bring more specialists in, and getting bigger and bigger, where patients don’t have to travel (as far). That was the biggest problem at the time – patients couldn’t get to Tyler to get the services they needed.”

Weaver nodded. 

“If you were sick or something, it could take an hour” to travel to Tyler and back to see a doctor there, he said. “So, just to provide more services, they brought a lot of specialists here and it’s grown, so that’s been good for our patients.”

Working in a small town, private hospital has been a positive experience, they said. 

“It’s been very good – you get to know the patients a lot more closely than you would in a big town or a bigger system, and you have more opportunity and time with your patients,” Vierkant said, adding that “it’s been a nice, open environment” in “helping people out both spiritually and physically.”

For his colleague, practicing medicine in a small community meant getting to know the patients on a deeper level, which, in turn, fostered a stronger sense of trust.

“When you come in here, you’re going to see the same nurse here as you do at Walmart – my nurse knows a lot of my patients before I see them, so when they call us, it’s not like you’re a stranger. You’re part of the community,” Weaver said. “It’s that small-town thing.”

The men said they will continue to live in the area, focusing on post-retirement activities.

After three decades of seeing to the health needs of the community, they said what they’ll miss the most are their patients.

“I’ve basically gotten old with them,” Vierkant said. “A lot of them I’ve had for 25 years.”

“It’s the same with me,” Weaver said. “My adult patients, too, they’re getting older with me … I’ve been here almost 30 years, and some have been with me for 20-plus years. And now I’m seeing babies having their own babies, seeing my patients grow up.”

Weaver and his wife Carol are the parents of Rachel, Luke and Morgan.

Vierkant and wife Tammy are the parents of Jacob, Caleb and Valerie.

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