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Dirk Dunfee wanted to treat patients at Family Health Care. That was obvious. Dr. Sharon Lee, the clinic's founder, remembers the call she got one day about 10 years ago. The man on the other end said, “I've just graduated from nursing school. I'd really like to come there.”

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Lee told him that, unfortunately, she didn't really have much call for nurses. “But if you were a nurse-practitioner,” she said, “we'd put you to work right away.” As Lee recalls, it was about three weeks later that she got a second call from the man, Dirk Dunfee. “He said, 'I'm going to nurse-practitioner school. I'll be there in three and a half years.”


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He might have forgotten all about Family Health Care, and pursued a career elsewhere. But Dunfee didn't. Periodically, Lee would pick up the phone and he'd be on the other end, updating her on the progress of his schooling, and reaffirming his intention to join the staff at Family Health Care. Then, as promised, about three-and-a-half years after the initial call, the voice on the other end of the phone materialized – tall, slender, with close-cropped thinning hair and a sense of humor so understated it often left Lee wondering, “Was that a joke?”

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For five years, he treated patients, routinely getting to work at 6 a.m. and staying until 5 or 6 p.m., according to his co-worker Kat Terry, a registered nurse. “No one worked harder than Dirk,” she said. “The medical students from KU all did rotations with him,” Terry said. “He was a natural teacher.” Lee said she appreciated his “very positive presence,” and his clinical accumen.

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At the clinic's weekly staff meetings, Dunfee always sat in a corner with his head bowed over his laptop, rarely speaking. But when he finally broke his silence earlier this year to let the staff know that the Jesuits had decided to send him to Denver, where he is to establish a clinic similar to Family Health Care, the tear-stained faces were apparent, the sniffles audible.

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*“A lot of patients are going to miss him, and so am I” said Lee, who now must find someone to do what Dunfee did for five years.

“We're looking for a provider,” she said. “I don't want to call it a replacement.”

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Story by: Karen Uhlenhuth