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Health Beat: Doctor Makes Health Care Connection with Patients

Maybe he’s not quite the earnest young physician who just walked out of a 1940s movie, holding a basket of farm fresh eggs in payment from his last patient and stopping to gently chide the town truant for sneaking a smoke behind the five-and- ten cent store.

Still there’s something comfortably familiar about Dr. Scott Hartshorn.

He practices thoroughly modern medicine on St. Thomas and St. John. He’s a family physician, a description that correctly conjures up images of a doctor who treats people rather than diseases.

“I’ve been here almost 20 years,” he said.

He’s built long term relationships with a lot of patients over that time, tending to them personally rather than having a “P.A.” (physician’s assistant) step in, as is the trend at many practices.

“Most of my time is spent one-on-one,” with patients, he said, although he does have to devote increasingly more time to paperwork required by Medicare and other insurance outlets.

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Hartshorn completed his education in South Carolina and spent the early years of his adult life there. He earned his bachelor’s of science degree from the College of South Carolina, his masters from The Citadel, and – later – completed his medical degree at the Medical University of South Carolina.

He didn’t rush into medicine. First, he spent 10 years teaching biology, chemistry and psychics to high school students. That intense interaction between teacher and student had to be good experience for a man who eventually ended up practicing family medicine.

Hartshorn already had his heart set on the Virgin Islands when he entered medical school. He and his wife – he married in 1983 – used to vacation in the territory. He wanted to move to the islands but realized a V.I. teacher’s salary was too low to support his family. That economic reality was one of the factors that prompted him to return to school for more education. Medicine was the obvious choice, given his interest and skill in science and his concern for people.

He did his residency work in family medicine in Charleston and worked for a health provider’s organization in Florida until a position opened up at Myra Keating Smith health center on St. John. That was in 1997. He later opened a private practice and worked both on St. John and nearby St. Thomas.

Meanwhile, his wife, Claudia Hartshorn, went into the retail business. She opened Functional Furnishings on St. John, and later added Welcome Home on the East End of St. Thomas. They lived on the smaller island for 10 years but moved to St. Thomas in 2007.

Hartshorn joined Judith Whitley, certified nurse midwife and family nurse practitioner at Health Connection. She specializes in women’s health care.
Patients present with a variety of problems.

“By far the most common things we see are the chronic diseases,” such as hypertension/high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, Hartshorn said. There are a lot of dermatology issues too, especially skin cancer. He also treats such psychiatric conditions as depression and anxiety, and deals with chronic pain. Of course, he sees a fair share of colds, bronchitis, and other acute illnesses.

Hartshorn said health care providers need to emphasize the importance of a healthy life style for their patients and advise them about life style changes.

“If you’re diabetic and you won’t stop drinking sodas, probably all the medication in the world” won’t keep you from having complications. Likewise, alcohol intake affects all aspects of health, and “as far as we’re concerned, nobody should be smoking,” he added.

The good news is that most people do want to be healthy and are willing to work at it.

“Probably 80 percent of the people we treat can reach their goals,” Hartshorn said. “I would say we’re probably successful about 80 percent of the time.”

Hartshorn said treating patients is “a constant learning curve … If something’s not in my field, I get them where they need to go.”

The number of specialists in St. Thomas has grown tremendously in the past 20 years, he said. When he arrived in the territory, there were few if any practitioners in orthopedics, hematology and oncology, renal disease, cardiology and psychology.

“It’s hugely different,” he said. “We have much better care available” now.

Hartshorn sees patients on St. Thomas on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Paragon Building and on St. John at the Starfish Market complex on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

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