Dr. Deborah Kirk of Smyrna on the New Family Practice: Delaware Health

Dr. Deborah T. Kirk of Smyrna sees patients who are old enough to recall a time when their family doctors delivered their babies. “Those days are definitely long past,” she says with a chuckle. But the family practitioner plays as big a role in patient care as it did in the past—maybe bigger.

“I love seeing the full spectrum of ages,” Kirk says. When she took on one patient, in her eighties, for example, she soon took care of the woman’s daughter, son and daughter-in-law, and grandchild (not to mention another 25 people referred by the original patient).

“It’s so cool to be part of their family,” Kirk says. “Understanding their interactions helps me be a better doctor. And you see their family history. That’s different than just knowing about it.”

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Most of her practice—65 percent—entails management of chronic issues such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes—conditions that run in families. Though she works closely with specialists, she remains the primary caregiver—she knows her patients in ways even the best specialists can’t.

Seeing patients when they’re sick is only a small part of her practice, so she urges everyone to see their doctors regularly for routine physical exams and screenings. “Your doctor can offer a lot more that you can’t get if you go only when you’re sick,” Kirk says. A big believer in preventative medicine, she stresses the importance of regular exercise—45 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week—and eating a balanced diet.

“All those things you’ve been told for years are really, really true,” Kirk says. “It just follows that you can really help prevent chronic conditions.”

Which means you could be seeing your doctor well into your eighties—and beyond.

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