South Texas physician just keeps practicing

Dr. Fletcher Glendenning, class of 1951, has been practicing family medicine for more than 50 years, and has no plans to stop. He would "rather wear out than rust out," he says.

Dr. Glendenning, 80, practices in the South Texas town of Hebbronville, population about 5,000. A native of McAllen, he chose the community after realizing a group practice in the Panhandle town of Hereford wasn't for him and because Hebbronville "needed a doctor."

Discussing his years at UT Southwestern Medical School, Dr. Glendenning said he came here in 1947 fresh out of the Navy, and that all but one person in his entering class of 64 were veterans.     

Dr. Fletcher Glendenning

At the time, Southwestern was located at its original campus on Oak Lawn and Maple behind the old Parkland Hospital. The school was little more than "recycled Army barracks hooked together with a network of halls and corridors," he remembered.

The floors were "so jiggly" that you had to wait for everyone in the building to be still until you could conduct a physiology experiment or else the readings would be off, he said. He also recalled an "old Tom cat" that was a medical school pet.

Dr. Glendenning said he chose Southwestern because of its admissions policy. He also was accepted to Tulane University School of Medicine but learned it anticipated a 10 percent attrition rate. He said Southwestern's philosophy was: "If we lose one out of this class, the admissions committee made a mistake."

Southwestern taught him to "solve problems" even though the solution was "not conventional," Dr. Glendenning recounted. He said his training "held me in good stead with general practice," where the nearest medical help was either 50 miles to the west of Hebbronville, 100 miles to the east, 100 miles south or 150 miles north.

His impact on Hebbronville runs deep. He speaks of treating five generations in one family and of prescribing birth control pills to women for whom he now subsequently prescribed hormone replacement therapy. He estimated he has somewhere near 10,000 patient records.

During the course of his 50 years in Hebbronville, Dr. Glendenning has delivered 3,001 babies and practiced what he terms "honest to goodness" country doctoring. He has set broken bones while in people's kitchens and treated patients in deer stands. His last delivery was a C-section. The lights went out in the operating room, "so I delivered the baby in the dark and finished the operation by flashlight," he said.

The doctor likes long-term commitments. He has been married for 56 years to the former Edna Ketner, whom he courted by taking two Dallas streetcars to and from the medical school while he read his textbooks. She helps with his practice.

A lot of his time now is spent "explaining what city doctors at the hospital" tell his patients, Dr. Glendenning said. He thinks "talking to people, not just poking pills down their heads" is a crucial part of medicine and that the value of that wisdom may be lost on the younger generations, in part due to the restrictions of managed-care medicine.

Asked to sum up his philosophy, Dr. Glendenning prescribed laughter. "Don't take life too seriously, and laugh a lot. Laughter is good medicine."

In addition, he said,"knowledge is passed directly from teacher to student, not by some great, grand building" -- a philosophy of medical training he thinks everyone should keep in mind.