by Kristy Bailey, Alamance News Staff Writer
For the first time in 75 years, Graham will be without a Crissman family doctor.
Dr. Mark Crissman – whose father, Dr. Clinton Crissman, in 1946 founded Crissman Family Practice, now located at 214 East Elm Street in Graham – retired from practicing on October 31.
The oldest family practice in Graham is changing hands, after merging several years ago with Cone Health.
The practice was founded in 1946 by his father, Dr. Clinton Crissman, a native of Pittsboro who came to Graham after serving as an aviation medical examiner for the Army Air Corps during World War II, the younger Crissman recalled this week in an interview with The Alamance News.
He had come to Graham specifically because he had wanted to open a practice in a county seat, Dr. Clinton Crissman recalled in an interview with The Alamance News following his unofficial retirement in 1985. He was later joined in his practice by Dr. Emitt Lupton, who previously had an office over Wrike Drug Store along North Main Street in downtown Graham. Dr. Clinton Crissman also served on the former Alamance County school board during the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Thirty-nine years to the day after its founding, on July 15, 1985, he turned the day-to-day operations of his practice over to son Dr. Mark Crissman and fully retired from practicing medicine in 1989, the younger Crissman recalled this week.
Dr. Clinton S. Crissman and his son Dr. Mark Crissman in 1985.
A Graham native and the second-youngest of five sons, Mark Crissman grew up at 620 East Harden Street, where the Elevate 54 apartment complex stands today, and graduated from Graham High School in 1970. He went on to earn his medical degree from Temple University in 1980, as his father had done 35 years earlier.
Mark Crissman completed his residency and training in family medicine at Bowman Gray School of Medicine and Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem worked for Public Health Service in Troy to repay his debt for medical school, he recalled this week. He chose to go into family medicine, Crissman explained this week, “because I got to see the broad range of medicine and got to take care of the whole person instead of just part of the person.”
That avenue allowed him to watch patients who started out with him as children grow up and start their own families, which Crissman credited as one of the more rewarding aspects of running a family practice.
Had he not gone into medicine, Crissman said he probably would’ve pursued a career in aviation. “I’ve always been interested in aviation,” he said. In addition to serving on the Burlington-Alamance Airport Authority board, Crissman, like his father, is also an aviation medical examiner.
Crissman is also an avid skier and cyclist, participating in “probably over 100” Mission Man Triathlons through his church, Front Street United Methodist Church in Burlington.
The Mission Man Triathlons that Front Street UMC hosts – and consist of a 750-meter swim; 15-mile bike course; and a 5K run – typically raise more than $35,000 per year, on average, to fund local and international missions work.
Mission trips with his church have taken him around the world, to Haiti, Honduras, Brazil, Ukraine, and other destinations, Crissman said, adding, “You do relief work to spread the gospel.”
He and his wife of 19 years, Marie Crissman, have a “blended family” of seven children and 13 grandchildren, with the latter likely to play a prominent role in his plans for the near future.
“We’ll be taking care of grandchildren; and when we get to travel again, we will,” Crissman elaborated. “This is my home – we’re going to be here.”
In the meantime, Crissman said he and his wife had looked after five grandchildren one day this week, albeit with social distancing and other precautions, to limit the spread of COVID-19.
At 68, the announcement of his retirement didn’t exactly take his nearly 1,000 patients and 13 employees by surprise, but Crissman acknowledges that the challenges of running a family practice in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic expedited his decision.
Earlier this year, Crissman shifted to “telemedicine” – i.e., using videoconferencing to meet with patients – to limit the potential for spreading COVID-19, he said in the interview.
“I’ve not been in the office since March,” Crissman elaborated this week. “Most [patients] are back to phone and in-person visits; but, with me being over 65, I’ve elected to stay away. Ever since March, I’ve been doing telemedicine. I’ve gotten really tired of sitting in the room over my garage, talking to patients instead of talking personally with them. At first, I thought it would extend my career; instead it shortened my career – it was just less fulfilling.”
Among the more bittersweet aspects of retiring in an age of social distancing, is not having a chance to say goodbye to his patients face-to-face, Crissman added. “I’ve been really warmed and heartened by all the kind comments I’ve gotten from patients,” he said, “and they’re truly going to be missed.”