Dr. Kenneth Higby has come out of retirement to become medical director of the Perinatal Center at Odessa Regional Medical Center.
Higby, whose specialty is maternal fetal medicine, lives in San Antonio, where he had a thriving practice. He said he now works part-time at ORMC coming in to cover fellow doctors’ vacation time.
Because he retired only briefly, Higby said he has kept busy and kept abreast of what’s going on in his field.
There is currently a nationwide shortage of maternal fetal practitioners.
“I get a phone call or text every other day for help,” Higby said. “The need has gone up since we’ve been recognized as a subspecialty. A couple decades ago, things obstetricians may have taken care of on their own (they) don’t feel comfortable doing when they have resources available.”
“The other potential problem is the length of time for training. You’re talking about four years of residency (and) three years of fellowship, so that’s the same amount of training as a neurosurgeon. So when you come out of medical school $100,000 in debt, are you willing to work another seven years before you’re going to get a decent paycheck?” he said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Eastern Michigan University and went to medical school at Michigan State University. Hibgy did his residency at Brooke Army Medical Center and a fellowship at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio.
“I had a commitment to go back to the military because they paid my salary when I was in fellowship,” Higby said.
He also served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
Before going to medical school, Higby was a retail manager for 15 years with 125 employees. A snowmobile accident put him out of commission for about three months. That’s when he decided to go to medical school.
“If it had not been for the injury, I probably wouldn’t have gone. … That enabled me to step back and look at my life,” Higby said.
In medical school, he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
“One day, I told my wife, I think I want to go into OB-GYN and she goes, ‘You know what, that’s the only rotation that you came home from in your third year of medical school that you weren’t … complaining every night,’” Higby said.
This was something he never realized, so he went into obstetrics and gynecology.
“I really love surgery. That’s one of the down sides of doing maternal fetal medicine is we don’t do gynecologic surgery. I had a great mentor in residency and applied for maternal fetal medicine and got accepted at three places and decided to go to UT San Antonio,” Higby said.
He added that he got “phenomenal training” there.
“It’s been a long ride. It’s been a great ride. I love what I do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. That’s the reason I’m still working. I just have a passion for what I do,” Higby said.
Stacey L. Brown, president of ORMC, said the hospital has two perinatal centers for high-risk obstetrical patients in Odessa and Midland.
“These clinics are staffed by board-certified and fellowship-trained maternal fetal medicine physicians in partnership with West Texas Maternal Fetal Medicine Center, LLC, whose managing partner is Jorge Blanco, M.D. Dr. Blanco was on staff with ORMC for 16 years, also serving as medical director, and just recently retired from clinical practice,” Brown said in an email.
Brown wrote that there are currently five maternal fetal medicine physicians covering the two centers and ORMC.
“Many of these physicians are recognized throughout the state, or even nationally. Each of these physicians bring their own diverse skill sets into the group and together they offer the women and families of the Permian Basin strengths and decades of experience that would not be available in a system with a solo physician. The Regional Perinatal Center provides care to patients within a 120-220 mile radius,” Brown said.
The other physicians include Drs. Joseph Bottalico, Joseph Bruner, Byron Elliott and Louis Ridgeway.
“Like the other physicians in the group, (Higby) has brought with him new insights and expertise, specifically his passion in caring for diabetic mothers,” Brown said.
Higby started practicing in 1999 and has performed in-utero transfusions, put shunts in babies in bladders and chests, among many other procedures. In addition to maternal-fetal medicine, ORMC also offers genetic counseling.