The city of Marion is rich in Alabama history that pre-dates the Civil War. The town boasts a number of antebellum homes, along with Judson College and Marion Military Institute. Few people may know that a young Coretta Scott, born and raised in Marion, wed her husband, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., on the front lawn of her mother's home. It's this town's history that called out to Shane Lee, MD when he was looking to establish a practice.
After finishing medical school at The University of Alabama, Lee did his residency in Selma where he met Donald Overstreet, MD. The two hit it off, and Overstreet became a mentor and friend.
Dr. Overstreet cold-called me from Selma," Lee said. "He was sort of half Marcus Welby and half Donald Trump - he was a wheeler dealer who got stuff done. At the time, his was the only family practice residency program financially stable in the state.
"I was attracted to Selma because of my love of history, and at the time Selma was going through a bit of a renaissance."
His love of history may have brought him to the Selma area, but the quality of the residency program kept him there. "It was an excellent residency program," Lee said. "They grabbed you by the collar and threw you into the trenches. All the doctors you worked with, from family medicine to surgeons and orthopaedists, were so overloaded that they were thrilled to have the help. It was a very procedure-oriented program, which is critical. I think that's something we need to do better now."
Lee strives to provide the best possible standard of care to the residents of Marion and the surrounding area, even if that means making house calls. In Lee's case, sometimes a house call is just another day on the job. The thing is, Lee has a second job. He's also a two-star general in the U.S. Army.
His office walls are covered with photos and memorabilia of his travels. From the jungle of Nicaragua to the desert of the Middle East, Lee has traversed the globe on medical mission trips and deployments. Just inside the door is a green denim pouch about the size of a baseball cap. The pouch was part of his uniform during Operation Desert Storm. It contained his gas mask.
"I'm a blue collar kid from Hueytown. I never thought I would have done the things that I have," Lee said. "If it hadn't been for the military, I wouldn't have been able to. I'm an accidental general. It wasn't my goal. I just hung in there. There are certain career checkpoints you have to make, and it was a labor of love for me. There are some very qualified guys, much more qualified than me, that didn't make flag rank just because when it came up, there weren't any vacancies. Anyone who's made general, if they don't tell you that it's a little bit of luck, they're lying."
The deployments are a little different now. Lee and his unit are on a medical mission trip to Kauai, Hawaii. After the end of a training cycle, if the unit doesn't deploy into an active area, they go somewhere else.
"We've started doing these IRTs, or innovative readiness trainings, where we send a medical unit to an underserved area. We just got back from one we did in Virginia in coal mining country. We take a medical section, vet section, optometry, pharmacy, mental health - we of mix it up depending on their needs and on what we have," Lee said.
The IRTs are clinics set up in conjunction with a local host. Connecting with the local medical community, public health services, law enforcement, church groups and other military groups helps to teach skills on both sides of the table.
"These trainings aren't successful unless we can get civilian involvement," Lee said. "We want to get people plugged into the system. Our big draws are dental, optometry and veterinarian services. Those get the most attention. It really is phenomenal change in an area and a good feeling to know the change you can leave behind."