The Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce April 2019 Newsletter featured a profile of General Surgeon H. Clay Dean as part of their Young Connection Spotlights series, in which Dr. Dean described how a unique opportunity in medical school, along with his rural upbringing helped lead him to practice surgery at Sauk Prairie Healthcare.
In 2016 Dr. H. Clay Dean joined Sauk Prairie Healthcare and began building his surgery practice not far from the town where both he and his wife grew up.
Among the options of cities and healthcare facilities where he could begin his practice, Dr. Dean described Sauk Prairie Healthcare as a “really good fit” and one he was familiar with, his brother and a portion of his wife Cortney’s family living in the area.
“Going into medical school I knew that I wanted to help people and I felt that being a physician would give me the biggest avenue to help a lot of people,” said Dr. Dean, who explained that he first imagined going into family practice before being introduced to surgical medicine. When going through rotations in medical school, Dr. Dean found that surgery combined his interest in anatomy with a preference for working with his hands, and experience he had gained working on the family farm near Blue River.
Growing up, Dr. Dean would help his father, who was a veterinarian, giving Dr. Dean early first-hand experience in medical treatment. He also came to appreciate the ever-changing challenges that come with living on a farm: finding a challenge, solving the problem, and moving on to the next problem to be solved.
“I like to be able to do a lot of different things and I tell people that I think I would get bored if I had to do the same thing over and over again,” said Dr. Dean. “But in general surgery, you’re definitely not doing the same thing over and over again.”
When Dr. Dean has patients in the hospital, the day starts with doing rounds to check on patients. He also has scheduled surgeries in the operating room, sees patients in clinic, and is on-call about every other day.
“If an emergency comes in, I deal with the emergency and then everything else comes after that,” said Dr. Dean. “So it’s usually not the same thing every day.”
By choosing Sauk Prairie Healthcare, Dr. Dean is also able to have more of a relationship with each patient that he sees. This became a goal, in part, because of a program designed to encourage doctors to set up rural practices in Wisconsin.
In 2006 Dr. Dean graduated from the University of Wisconsin — Platteville with a degree in biology and began medical school at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. There he joined the inaugural class of the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine, which places student in rural clinic settings.
“During medical school I spent two years in Rice Lake and Marshfield systems to get a feel for that,” said Dr. Dean, “because it kind of shows you what practice would be like in a non-academic center and shows you, ‘this is why I went into medicine.’"
There are many factors that can draw students away from rural practice. Part of it is simply that after four years of school, followed by residency (five years in the case of surgeons), Dr. Dean suspects many new doctors get accustomed to living in cities and working in large medical facilities.
In 2011 Dr. Dean and his family moved to Des Moines where he spent the next five years as a resident at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. At the end of his residency, their family — Dr. Dean, Cortney, and their two boys Henry, now 8, and Brantley, 5 — returned to Wisconsin.
Although Dr. Dean had not met any of the Sauk Prairie Healthcare surgeons, he knew of Dr. Tony DeGiovanni through family and as the “legendary” first full-time surgeon at Sauk Prairie Healthcare. As Dr. Dean interviewed for the position, he came to know Dr. DeGiovanni personally, then as a colleague before Dr. DeGiovanni retired in 2017.
“I have been fortunate to have a really good staff around me that work hard and do the best thing for the patient,” said Dr. Dean. “And that is also just the people around Sauk City and Prairie du Sac — the culture of helping one another.”
Dr. Dean continues to focus on building his practice, spending his spare time with his family out hiking at Devil’s Lake or watching his sons play sports. In the future he looks forward to getting more involved in local sports, community organizations and projects like the Great Sauk State Trail, in which he has been a supporter: “Projects like that interest me — stuff that is going to better the community.”