Mentor's guidance help doctor's dreams come true

vmannix@bradenton.comMay 5, 2013 

BRADENTON

How many children know what their life's work will be when they're 6 years old and it turns out that way?

It happened for Chelsea Boston.

Many moons ago as a Jessie P. Miller Elementary School first-grader, she visited an aunt who was a nurse on duty at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

The curious little girl met Dr. George Van Buren, a young pediatrician for Manatee County Rural Health Services, who invited her to follow him on his rounds.

Pretend you're a doctor, he said.

Those words took hold on young Chelsea.

"Kids would be pretty sick in my eyes and through his decisions those children got well," she said. "It was like he was performing these miracles and sending these kids home from death's door as far as I was concerned.

"It was rewarding to watch as a 6-year-old, because children can sense when people are good. So I felt it must be extremely rewarding to do that every day."

Twenty-four years later she is -- as Dr. Chelsea Tehan, pediatrician.

Her colleague?

Dr. George Van Buren.

Crazy, huh?

"Not in my dreams would I have thought I'd be sitting here today with a candidate at that early age," Van Buren said in Tehan's office, decorated with children's colorful drawings at Manatee Pediatrics, 712 39th St. W.

During his 25 years in medical practice, he's heard plenty of youngsters tell him they wanted to be physicians.

"Oh, yeah. They say, 'I want to be a doctor,' and that's great because your life is so wide open," Van Buren said. "Then they go off to college and maybe find something else interesting. You never know what's going to happen."

Himself included.

Growing up in St. Louis, the last thing on the young Cardinal fan's mind was becoming a doctor.

He dreamed of becoming another Bob Gibson. Or Lou Brock.

"I wanted to be a ballplayer," Van Buren said.

So what happened?

"Funny story. My ninth-grade biology teacher looked at my handwriting and said, 'You're going to be a doctor,'" said the University of Cincinnati medical school grad. "I got into it in college, worked at it one class at a time and got to the point, hey, I can do this."

That the pair became colleagues is fascinating.

It is also compelling, given Florida's ongoing crisis over Medicaid and health care for the needy.

Van Buren, 55, has been with Manatee Rural Health since 1988.

Tehan, 30, joined him last summer.

Assisted by three nurses, a physician assistant and a support staff of eight, they see an average of 50 to 60 young patients daily, dealing with everything from ear aches to chicken pox.

Roughly half are uninsured, Van Buren said.

"It's going to be extremely crucial for us to continue what we're doing, because we're the safety net for the uninsured or under-insured," he said. "Someone has to care for them lest they end up in the ER."

A mission that resonates with Tehan.

"There are children born into families who can't afford health care. They're human beings. They deserve medical care regardless of the ability to pay," said the mother of one. "That's what drives me."

Such ramifications weren't apparent back then as Tehan grew more enamored with becoming a doctor.

"I toyed with the idea of law, pharmacy, even education, but every time I did candy-striping at the hospital, I always came back to how interested I was in the medical aspect of it, the interaction between patients and physician, the give-and-take ultimately leading to a resolution for the patient to go back to life they were living before," she said.

Especially when the physician was Van Buren, who, like his protege, loves children.

"It sounds corny, but it was the kindness he showed families," Tehan said. "He sat there and he listened. Not all doctors do that. It could've been something silly and mundane or a mom telling him about problems at home, something that may have had absolutely nothing to do with the child. But it allowed her to get that off of her chest and it really helped them. That's what people are looking for, someone who will just listen to them."

No surprise theirs is an effective working relationship with plenty of give-and-take.

"More often than not it's me going, 'I don't know what this rash is. Can you look at it for me?'" Tehan said."She helps me. I help her," Van Buren said.

Tehan's mentor remained involved in her career advancement over the years to varying degrees:

• As a career observer while she was shadowing him as a Manatee High School student.

• As an instructor while she was a Florida State University medical school student doing a rotation at Manatee Rural Health.

• As an adviser during her pediatric residency at the University of South Florida and All Children's Hospital.

"It was unique to watch her develop into the physician she is and be a part of that and allow her to get exposure to the work we do," Van Buren said. "As she's grown older, I thought there was a possibility we'd somehow work together in some capacity. It just so happened it fell into place."

There was never any doubt where that place would be for Tehan.

Miller Elementary is four blocks one way; Manatee High, four blocks the other.

"This is where I always thought I would end up -- back in my community," she said. "To achieve the goal of being back home, working alongside the man who started it all, is a dream come true."

That man smiles at the wonder of it all.

"It makes you think of the influence you can have over young people," Van Buren said. "When you see them achieving, it's like you're a parent watching your own kids. You get as much satisfaction in that regard."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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