The McFarland Family & Our Founders
The five founders of McFarland Clinic (from left): G.E. McFarland, Sr., M.D.; G.E. ("Ernie") McFarland, Jr., M.D.; Julian McFarland, M.D.; O.L. Thorburn, M.D.; and David Wall, Sr., M.D.
The word “revolutionary” is often used in today’s health care environment to describe the latest in technologies. However, the term could not be any more fitting for the kind of care G.E. McFarland, Sr., M.D., introduced to central Iowa in the 1940s.
At a time when many physicians offered services from their homes or small offices, G.E. — known by most as “Senior” — introduced a model of care that at the time could only be labeled revolutionary. Senior invited sons G.E. (“Ernie”) McFarland, Jr., M.D. and Julian (“Packy”) McFarland, M.D., along with O.L. Thorburn, M.D., and David Wall, M.D., to join him in a group practice. The physicians believed a group practice could offer many benefits to patients and providers, and in 1946 planted the seed of what has grown into Iowa’s largest physician-owned, multi-specialty clinic.
A career in health care was not on the radar for Senior during his youth. While many physicians today have always dreamed of working in health care, Senior was content to follow in his father’s footsteps as the proprietor of an ice cream shop in Des Moines. It was not until he was married with children that his wife, Bessie, encouraged him to enter medical school so he could better provide for the young family.
Senior enrolled in the Kellogg Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Grandson Dave McFarland says Senior’s incredible memory served him well in his training and throughout his career.
“As I think about him, he had an extraordinary memory,” Dave says. “To get into medical school, prospective students were required to learn Latin. They were provided a book to study from and then were tested.
“My grandfather was inadvertently sent the second-year test instead of the first, but he got every question right. That’s just the way he was. He had a photographic memory.”
Senior graduated from the Kellogg Sanitarium and returned to central Iowa to practice medicine at his first clinic in Stanhope. He moved to Ames in 1924 and opened an office at Kellogg Avenue and Main Street.
Establishing a Group Practice
After practicing on his own in Ames for about a decade, Senior was joined in practice by Ernie in 1935 and Julian in 1938. Senior was a general practitioner, Ernie a general surgeon, and Julian an internist.
In 1941, Dr. Wall joined the group. Months later, with the country immersed in World War II, Dr. Wall, Ernie, and Julian left the practice to join the war effort. Ernie and Julian served in the Navy, while Dr. Wall served in the Army. The trio returned to the practice in 1945, the same year Dr. Thorburn joined the group.
In 1946, McFarland Clinic was incorporated and began a period of steady growth. In 1948, the practice added Howard “Hilde” Hildebrand, M.D. Drs. Hildebrand and Wall had been recruited to join McFarland Clinic while they were practicing at the Student Health Clinic at Iowa State University. Both were trained as general practitioners, but were urged by the three McFarlands to seek specialized training to expand the scope of the young clinic’s offerings.
Both physicians moved their families to Buffalo, New York, for residency training. Dr. Hildebrand completed training in pediatrics, while Dr. Wall completed his training in obstetrics and gynecology.
“He [Dr. Hildebrand] had thoughts of being a general surgeon at one time, but McFarland Clinic already had a surgeon,” says Maxine Hildebrand of her husband. “They needed a pediatrician and he liked children, so he decided to specialize in that.”
In the years immediately following the return of Drs. Hildebrand and Wall, McFarland Clinic added general surgeon William Bliss, M.D., radiologist John Bacon, M.D., and internist George Montgomery, M.D.
“They worked their tails off,” says David Wall, M.D., son of Dr. Wall, Sr., and eventually a McFarland Clinic physician himself. “They all had evening hours, Sunday hours. They were committed to serving anyone who needed care.”
“They felt it was a duty to be there,” says Dave McFarland, son of Dr. Ernie, “even when folks didn’t have an appointment. No one was ever sent away. They may have had to wait, but they would be seen. All of the physicians had a real sense of dedication and looked at providing care as a calling.”
These formative years are the foundation for what McFarland Clinic has become today.
“The guiding principles back then of providing excellent care right here in Ames,” says Dr. Montgomery, retired McFarland physician, “are very much the same as the vision today.”