Long-time physician says goodbye to Boyertown

When you’ve been doing what you love for over 35 years, it’s hard to make a change.

But change is the most recent prescription being written by Dr. W. William Shay, a long-time Boyertown family physician. Shay, formerly of Boyertown Family Care, is moving his practice to Moselem Springs, where he has joined the Lehigh Valley Health Network’s family medicine group.

Shay, or “Wolfie” as he is known to his friends, has been treating local residents since he first hung out his shingle in Boyertown in 1978 . He says the move is bittersweet.

“It’s not really what I had expected nor what I had anticipated, because I just kind of thought I would finish out my career where I started,” he said. “But you make decisions based on the best information you have at the time, and I’m just glad I have this opportunity.”

While Shay has spent the last 35 years in Boyertown, his medical career has lead him across the country. After graduation from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1973, he moved to New York City, where he completed his internship, staying on for another year-and-a-half to work in general practice.

After his New York stint, Shay moved to Eugene, Oregon, taking over the directorship of a free clinic. There, charged with the drug detoxification program, Shay saw mainly the drug-addicted and downtrodden, an experience he says helped to shape his future career.

Shay eventually made his way back to Boyertown, where he went into private practice on Philadelphia Avenue. He eventually relocated his office to his home in Barto, being joined by wife, Lynn, a nurse practitioner. The Shays stayed in private practice until 2009, when both joined Boyertown Family Care.

As Shay segues into a new career path, he isn’t leaving his old patients behind. He points out that many have been with him throughout his entire career in Boyertown, and while some have been local, many have been willing to travel. For others, the new office will be even closer.

With Moselem Springs a mere 25-minute drive from Boyertown, Shay said he thinks a majority of his patients will be willing to make the trek. “I think a significant amount will follow. The other thing, too, is that there have always been people coming from a wide area — 20 to 25 minutes already — so it’s not that much different for many of them. For a lot of people, it’s going to be even closer,” he says.

The new facility, originally opened as an urgent care facility, has transitioned to a family practice office where Shay will share space with several other clinicians. Along with the doctor’s offices, the facility also includes an imaging lab and physical therapy services. Specialists -- including cardiologists, neurologists and orthopedists -- rotate through the facility on a regular basis.

As for Lynn Shay, she has also joined the Lehigh Valley Health Network, with offices located in Kutztown. Having just received her Doctorate in Nursing Practice, Lynn is already seeing patients, where she clearly enjoys putting her new credentials to work. “It’s a change but one I’m really grateful for,” she says.

Lynn Shay’s designation as “the new Dr. Shay” affords her the opportunity to see patients in primary care, just like a physician would. According to Wolfie Shay, nurse practitioners such as Lynn are becoming the standard in healthcare, and he believes that in the next couple of years the laws will be changing so that any advanced practice nurse, such as Lynn, will have to have a doctoral degree.

The Kutztown opportunity clearly affords Lynn the opportunity to spread her wings a bit, and as for whether the Shay’s paths will cross, Shay says they most assuredly will. With Lynn’s primary care practice encompassing gynecology and pediatrics, Shay expects to see members of the family in his practice at Moselem Springs for other services including complementary medicine and acupuncture.

Even with 40 years of treating patients already behind him, Shay remains enthusiastic about the practice of medicine, even if health care has changed drastically over the years. “My enthusiasm comes from my interactions with people and families. That’s what still charges me up,” he says. As for the health care system, he derides what he considers the new “corporatization” of healthcare. “Much of the system has been changed by corporations treating health care as a business.”

As for the new health care mandate — or “Obamacare” as many have termed it — he thinks aspects of it can be good for the system. “I think it’s a good idea to provide more access for people, which is basically what it does. It provides access and the ability for people to have healthcare coverage.”

Yet he also notes that Obamacare fails to address the bigger issues facing the medical profession today, such as tort reform, malpractice insurance, preventative medicine, access to mental health services and why people get sick in the first place. He’s an advocate for taxing cigarettes and alcohol, believing that’s one way to recoup the massive costs of the current health care system. “There are ways the system could be modified for the people who are doing good by rewarding them for improving their health.”

He also thinks the system needs an influx of good doctors. “There’s already an incredible shortage of providers in this country,” he says. “There just aren’t enough family practice doctors out there in the trenches, and there aren’t enough nurse practitioners like Lynn to take care of all of these people. You may have insurance coverage but there’s nobody for you to see for care.”

For now, with one eye on the future, Shay will continue to treat patients as he always has: with a calm demeanor and caring approach. He’s thankful to be where he’s at in this point in his life.

“I kind of look like this as a feather in my cap. Lehigh Valley Health Network is certainly the best healthcare system in the area, and I just feel that it’s a good move and good way for me to segue into a part-time schedule. I’m definitely thankful for the opportunity.”

Shay can be reached at his new office in the Health Center at Moselem Springs by phoning 610-944-8800. Lynn Shay can be reached at her office in the Health Center at Kutztown at 610-683-8363.