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An interview with Dr. Chris Horton



Dr. Chris HortonChris Horton moved to Dayton in 1981 with his father, legendary Rhea County High School football coach Bill Horton. He graduated with honors from Dayton City School, Rhea County High School and Carson Newman College. Along the way he became a standout high school and college football player winning state and national honors. He graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School in 1999, and, after completing a three-year residency in family medicine, opened his own practice in Dayton. Chris and his wife, Cindy, have four daughters, Hannah, 11, Christian, 7, Sarah, 5, and Bekah, 2.

When did you decide to move back to Rhea County to open your medical practice?

Back in college I thought, “I really like Rhea County; I’d like to go back there.” Then in medical school I started thinking about it a little more. Rhea Medical Center contacted me during my second year in medical school about whether I’d be willing to come back. Actually, Guy Denton was on the hospital board, and he kind of instigated the whole thing. Rhea Medical Center made a commitment to pay for most of my medical school in exchange for a commitment to come back to Rhea County for five years, so I opened my practice here in Dayton in July 2002. I’ve already done my five years and I’m still here, so I’m not leaving any time soon.

You could have gone to a lot of other places to practice medicine. Why did you choose to come back to Rhea County?

Rhea County is a special place. Unless you’re from here it’s hard for people to understand just how special it is. I think it comes down to the values of the people in the community. People are friendly. People care about each other in this community. It’s a community where people reach out to help each other. It’s a place where if your car breaks down on the side of the road someone going to stop and help you. And it’s a great place to raise kids. Although I’m not a native Rhea Countian, I feel like I am because I grew up here. I’m proud to be a Rhea Countian.

One of the great things about coming back to your community is seeing all these people who’ve grown up. We were all immature high school kids, and now we’ve all grown up, and they’re successful and doing well. Rhea County is a special place because so many people grow up and they don’t leave; they stay here. So many of the guys and girls I went to school with, they stayed here. They had opportunities to go other places, but they chose to stay here because it is a special place.
It’s funny, Cindy didn’t know what it would be like to live in a small town; the smallest town she’d ever lived in was Chattanooga. She was a little apprehensive about living in such a small town. But three months after we’d been living here she said, “I don’t ever want to live anywhere else.” I think it would tougher on Cindy to move now than it would be for me.
Living in Memphis for seven years, we had a grocery store three miles from our house, and it was sometimes take us an hour to go to the store. In an hour here she can go to the grocery store, go to the Laundromat, go by the library and pick up some books and be home. The joys of a small town.

Whenever I go across to Wal-Mart and come back 35 minutes later, she asks, “So how many people did you see?” She knows if I go to Wal-Mart I’m going to see somebody I know and will stop and talk for a while. There are no five-minute trips to Wal-Mart in Dayton, which is great; I love that. A lot of guys I went to med school with would hate to see their patients at Wal-Mart. I love it. I see them all the time, and we stop and talk five minutes about their medical problem and 10 minutes about what their kids or grandkids are doing. That’s the great thing about a small town medical practice; I know these people on a personal level; they’re not just patients that walk through the door where I treat their blood pressure or their diabetes. A lot of times we sit and chat about what’s going on, what kids are getting married, things like that, and sometimes we talk about tough things that are going on in their lives. People want to share those things with me too. I treasure the trust of those patients to share the fact that they’re having a hard time in their marriage or with their kids or financially. Every now and then they even ask advice on these sorts of things. It’s a neat bond.

Compare and contrast practicing medicine in Dayton with practicing medicine in Memphis.

Practicing medicine in Memphis was very fast-paced. It was about getting patients seen, getting them in and out the door. I was able to practice medicine and treat them medically, but I didn’t ever really get to know my patients on a personal level. Of course, I practiced in a big group practice, which means this patient may have seen Dr. X last time, and they’re seeing me this time. I feel like I’m a lot closer to my patients now; they have a lot of trust in me, and the pace is slower. I’m able to slow down and spend a little time with patients. I have a smaller staff, which allows me to get to know my staff better. In Memphis we had staff turnover all the time. The patients never got to know the office staff, and they never got to know the doctors. A lot of the practice was bottom-line driven. Whereas now, I’ve got to make a living, but sometimes I can decide to see patients for free who are struggling to help out. Being in solo practice I get to set my own policies; I get to practice medicine the way I want to practice medicine. I get to do what’s best for each individual patient, not what’s best for the practice.

What other advantages are there to patients in going to a small-town family practice physician?

You’re going to get access more quickly. Now, if one of my patients calls in with a problem, we’ll try to fit them in that day. In Memphis, the next appointment was the next appoint. A lot of them would have to go to the ER. If my patient ends up in the hospital, I’m going to be the one who walks in to see him unless I have someone else on call for me that weekend. In Memphis, it would be any of the 24 physicians in the practice—whoever was on call that night.

What is your perception of healthcare in general in Rhea County?

Healthcare in general is good in Rhea County. When I was a boy there was a perception that if you were really sick, you needed to go to Chattanooga. That was the reputation then. Over the years the technology has grown and investments have been made in new technology and new doctors. I think the negative stigma has taken a while to go away, especially among the older generation. They’re thinking of the Rhea County hospital of 30 years ago, not the Rhea County hospital of today. Their picture is that the hospital doesn’t have the same technology, doesn’t have CT scan. But that’s not the case today. We have a newer CT scanner here than most of the hospitals in Chattanooga. We’ve got an MRI machine. We have a lot of technology now that wasn’t available to us 15 to 20 years ago. Medicine is technology-driven now, and good investments have been made in that area. That’s been a great thing for the community. Unfortunately, not everybody knows that yet. They still think they’re going to get better care in Chattanooga, when actually they may get an older technology there than at Rhea Medical Center.  

I have patient after patient after patient that I have to admit at the new hospital who have also been in other hospitals, and they say, “I would much rather stay at Rhea Medical Center if I have to be in the hospital than at those places. The nursing staff is more attentive, I get personalized care, they know me and my family is able to visit more often.” Let’s face it, if it’s easier for your family to visit, it makes for a much nicer hospital stay than if you’re stuck in that hospital room by yourself. You’ve got family and friends to help you pass the time. “You want that book from home? Sure, I’ll go get it and bring it right back.” It’s more convenience and much nicer to be close to home.

Anybody who thinks they need to go to Chattanooga to get good healthcare needs to reconsider that. They should talk to their doctor and see what they can get done here. Even if their doctor is in Chattanooga, they can still ask to have their radiology tests or lab work done here.

You’ve talked a lot about the new hospital and all the new technology; what about the staff?

For a good while now we’ve had really good doctors and a really good nursing staff at the hospital, and I think for a long time the perception of healthcare went with the building. You move that same quality staff into this new building and more people are starting to realize, “we really do have a good hospital here.” I brag on our nursing staff all the time. All my patients tell me how great the nursing staff is at RMC. They say, “I push the call button and in just a few minutes they were in there and got what I needed, whereas I sat in Erlanger and pushed the call button for three hours before someone came in.” I think that’s a great advertisement for the hospital.

We’ve got great doctors that have a lot of expertise like Dr. Bovine, Dr. Crews, Dr. Panda, who are all really great doctors, and then we’ve got some young doctors coming in that are great doctors like Dr. Black, Dr. Brock, Dr. Bates, those guys. I’m kind of in the middle of those guys because the younger guys came in a little after me, and Dr. Bovine and Dr. Crews were here well ahead of me. I’m kind of the bridge-the-gap guy between those two groups. Having Dr. Swafford come in has been great. He’s been great to work with, and, of course, Dr. Tantihachai is a great surgeon as well. We’re blessed to have the doctors we have. When I compare them to the doctors I worked with in Memphis, these guys are at least as good as any of those guys, and they’re right here in Rhea County. Rhea County has nothing but a bright future ahead in terms of physicians.






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Rhea Medical Center | 9400 Rhea County Highway | Dayton, TN 37321
Phone: (423) 775-1121