Becoming a small-town doctor in the 21st Century was (almost) always the dream for Northern Michigan’s Dr. Bruce Lirones.
Dr. Lirones is also a music enthusiast and musician, playing trumpet for many years in the NMC jazz bands and bass with family and friends in a garage band. He practices in Rapid City, and he and his photographer wife, Lisa, live on Clam Lake, where they raised their sons Brett (now with Hagerty Insurance in Traverse City) and Luke (studying to become an optometrist).
Why did you go into medicine?
My dad was a doctor in the city [Flint] and I didn’t want his job. I never saw him. The dentist in our subdivision came home at 4:30. I thought, “He’s got a great job.” So I was going to be a dentist. I changed my mind on the last day to apply for medical school. I decided I wanted to be a country doctor, a family doctor from a different era. It’s more of a calling, like being a pastor. I was lucky I got to do what I wanted.
How did you end up in Northern Michigan?
My mom’s hometown was Mancelona. The family moved to Flint, and my Mom’s dad built the third cottage on Bear Lake (between Kalkaska and Grayling). It’s a one-bedroom cottage and the kit to build it was $250. Dr. Wilmer Glenny in Bellaire went to med school with my dad and whenever we went up north we’d go see him. Doc Glenny picked us up at the Clam River Bridge in a boat and I thought it was the biggest boat in the world. I loved it Up North. I moved up here to recapture my childhood. My boys came along for the ride. I’ve had a crazy (second) childhood. I was told, “You can’t play guitar.” Now I’ve got 10. “You’ve got to play in the orchestra.” So I joined a jazz band.
What’s it like, being a small-town doctor?
I was the youngest kid in my med school. I was 26 when I started practicing. I’d walk in and they’d say, “Go get your dad.” People had a hard time understanding why a kid wanted to be a country doc. Every day I go to work for my friends. All these people have become my friends. I still like it (although) I hate making diagnoses of these horrible diseases.
How different is it than when you started?
We have open-heart surgery in Traverse City. There were no heart cath labs—you had to go to Grand Rapids. You look at all sorts of technology. It gives you better outcomes. I think my patients live a little longer, a little better, come back from surgery better. For my patients, I trap the bear, the specialists skin it. I figure out what’s wrong, get them to the right person. On July 19, 1983, I opened my office in Alden. Back then I’d work shifts at the Kalkaska ER, deliver babies and do surgery at the Osteopathic Hospital. Back then it was just fun. It was a big, fun, full life. Now I collect data for the government and insurance, fill out paperwork. Am I still making a positive impact on my community? I do still make house calls.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve had happen?
I had a guy come up to me and say, “Doc, I’ve got a boil on my butt.” He then showed me. I was sitting in a restaurant, and my boys were little kids, maybe 3 and 7. They were horrified.