By ANGELA H. HILL
Dr. Gabriel Edmondson grew up in the small town of Tifton, Ga., the son and grandson of physicians. He knew he wanted to be a physician, and he knew he wanted to live and work in a small, rural area.
But the one thing he was sure of, he added, is that he didn’t want to do it in the sweltering Georgia heat.
His childhood memories include being drenched in sweat from a quick run to gather eggs. That was enough to convince him to head for the cooler, less humid Blue Ridge Mountains to pursue his medical training and career.
As Tri-area Community Health Clinic’s newest clinician, Edmondson joined the clinic’s Ferrum location in March. He earned his Doctor of Osteopathy at Virginia Tech’s Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency at Shenandoah Valley Family Practice in Front Royal. Most recently, he was a family medicine physician at Bassett Family Practice.
“I wanted to go to a place that was the middle of nowhere – farm country,” Edmondson said. “That’s what I’m used to. That’s what I like.” He and his wife purchased a 48-acre property in Patrick County where they garden, hike, raise goats; and he blacksmiths as a hobby.
Edmondson said he’s also glad to join Tri-area in particular because he prefers practicing medicine at a federally qualified healthcare center that serves residents regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
He sees FQHCs as striking a great balance between major private-practice health organizations and free clinics to offer “the best of both worlds.”
“You can see any sort of patient [at a FQHC], whether they have the money to be seen and whether they have insurance,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are and it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can be seen and get medical care … So many people are not going to see a doctor because they think it’s going to cost them a lot of money.”
Edmondson met his wife when she was working for the Washington County Library system. She now works at the Patrick County Library. They married in 2017 at Fairystone State Park, and he knew that he wanted to work in a rural, under-served area of Southwest Virginia.
He found the staff and clinicians at Tri-area to be super friendly and the community to be a great fit.
Edmondson said he also appreciates that Tri-area can offer transportation to patients, both to appointments at the clinic’s three offices and to specialists when possible. He hopes the center can add additional buses in the future to continue helping those who don’t make appointments because they lack reliable transportation.
“I’m looking forward to a day when my patients have no excuse,” he added. “We’ve got the finances covered and we’ve got the transportation … Eliminating those barriers is the ultimate goal.”
Edmondson also explained the difference between an M.D., a Doctor of Medicine; and a D.O., a Doctor of Osteopathy, as not being as profound as it was 200 years ago when the degree paths and patient-care approaches diverged.
“It is of historic interest, but in modern-day medicine and going forward the differences are pretty small,” he continued. “Theoretically, the osteopathic approach is holistic and wellness oriented … the body has the mechanisms to heal itself so I’m not giving health to the body. The body has health in it. I’m just helping the body to produce its own health.”
However, he added that MDs are now holistic as well so “to say that most MDs are closed-minded, that’s not true.” He said many accredited systems offer both styles of residencies.
“The one thing that is unique is osteopathic manipulation,” Edmondson said.
This involves physical manipulation of bones and tendons, such as popping a rib back in place. Many MDs do have training in this, he added.
“I really enjoy doing manipulation,” he said. “It’s a good tool because some things you can only fix with surgery, other things with pharmaceutical treatments. For instance, if you have high blood pressure, surgery isn’t going to make your blood pressure better … but for something like a hip problem, manual manipulation will help.”
He also enjoys the variety of patients he sees as a family medicine practitioner; and that Tri-area has in-house clinicians he can refer patients to for specialties like mental health.
“I chose [family medicine] because I like everything. I like to see kids. I like to see pregnant women. I like taking care of older people. I didn’t want to specialize in cardiology. I want to see the whole patient; not just the heart,” he said.
For that reason, he prefers not to focus on specific goals such as diabetes during his tenure at Tri-area. His primary focus is on preventative care for all health issues.
“It’s frustrating when I see someone who has a problem and wants to fix it, but I wish they could have come to see me five years ago,” he said. “An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.”
On a side note, Edmondson’s patients may wonder why his first name is written as “gabriel” rather than “Gabriel” with a capital G. He said that stems from being an avid student of linguistics and etymology, the study of word origin.
His first name is of Hebrew origin, and the Hebrew language has no capital letters. Therefore, he chose to honor the word’s history by not emphasizing one letter over another. He points out that while English capitalizes the “I” but no other pronouns, the Norwegian and French languages do not capitalize any pronouns. In German, however, every noun is capitalized but the pronoun “I” is not.
“The real bottom line is, control is an illusion,” Edmondson said. “I can’t control the weather. I can’t make my patients do what I want them to do. I can eat healthy and exercise, but I might get struck by lightning or hit by a bus.
“There is one thing you can control, and that’s your identity,” he continued. “My name is my name and I’m the only authority. I should be the one who gets to decide whether it’s capitalized or not.”