Dr. Sam Stone has spent a lifetime giving back to the places that gave him so much — Chester, a small, rural town in north central South Carolina, and Clemson University.
He has practiced family medicine in his hometown for four decades, serves as the team doctor for local high school athletics teams, helped start a free medical clinic and set up a teddy bear hospital at Christmastime.
“I tell people there’s no access to medical care problem in Chester because they know where I live, what church I go to and where I go to the hardware store,” joked Dr. Stone, who graduated from Clemson in 1976 with a degree in pre-med before completing medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Starting more than 40 years ago, Dr. Stone volunteered as the Clemson stadium doctor, manning the first aid station in Death Valley during home football games. He also helped start and continues to work with Tigers on Call, a program that connects current students interested in a health care career with Clemson alumni working in medical fields.
“Those places helped make me who I am today. They’ve been awfully good to me,” he said. “A quote I’ve always heard is, ‘When you reach the top floor, don’t forget to send the elevator back down.’”
Growing up, Dr. Stone always knew he wanted to be a family doctor. His father, Dr. Halsted Stone, practiced family medicine in Chester for 50 years.
“My father was my example, but so many of my role models have been family doctors,” he said. “So many people say they wanted to be this when they grew up and then they changed it to something different. But my whole life, all I wanted to be was a family doctor, with the goal to come back home and help people.”
He has provided primary care for generations of Chester residents.
“What other job can you have where you can see friends all day long? The way I look at my patients is they’re not patients, they’re friends. And they honor me by coming and asking me to be part of their family and to take care of them,” he said. “I’ve been asked to go to birthday parties for 3-year-olds, attend family reunions to people I’m not kin to and speak at funerals. To me, it’s special because you’re part of their family, not just the doctor.”
In addition to providing primary care to patients, his office conducts free physicals for 500-600 high school athletes each year.
“I don’t want any kid to not be able to participate because they can’t afford to get a physical,” he said.
As a 215-pound center on the Chester High football team, he earned a part-athletic and part-academic scholarship to Presbyterian College, but he chose to attend Clemson instead.
“I knew I was, at the most, a mediocre football player and I wanted to get into med school. Clemson is the number one school in the state as far as putting people in medical school goes. I knew Clemson would prepare me to get there,” he said.
While he was in residency in Anderson College after graduating medical school, he volunteered to work in the first aid station for Clemson home football games. He continued to do so until this past season.
“I hadn’t seen a halftime show up until this year,” he said.
He said while he was the stadium doctor, he dealt with almost every medical condition imaginable, from serious medical issues such as heart attacks, strokes and aneurisms to dehydration and mothers who needed a place to breastfeed their babies.
“The only thing we did not do during those years is deliver a baby. I always wanted to do that because I thought, what a great thing it would be to say that you were born in Death Valley during a game,” Dr. Stone said.
One of the most interesting encounters with a person seeking medical attention was a young woman who had just been dumped by her boyfriend. The woman stayed in the first aid station about half the game before the doctor helped locate her parents.
“We treated her broken heart,” Dr. Stone said.
Tigers on Call
Tigers on Call originated from the Clemson Alumni Physician Society, an organization that held a two- or three-day program with speakers. That ended in the early 2000s.
About eight years ago, talk of doing something similar and including students started.
Thanks to Dr. Stone and four other doctors who are Clemson alumni, Tigers on Call was born. It connects students with health professionals and features roundtable discussions, mock professional school interviews, a mock MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) exam and informal networking activities. Last year’s event included a suture clinic. The next Tigers on Call will be held on April 5.
“Tigers on Call is like a mini reunion for the alumni who participate, but it’s so much bigger,” he said. “It gives us a chance to share with students what we did, how we did it and how to get where they want to go. They can pick our brains. Sometimes you know what you want to do, but you just don’t know how to do it. You can waste a lot of time and money taking the wrong courses or having the wrong major. Or not knowing that shadowing and volunteering look good on an application.”
Dr. Stone invites all students to shadow him as he sees patients in the office and goes on house calls.
“You don’t buy a brand new car without test driving it first,” he said.
He also said he wants students to know how to balance their work life and family life. Dr. Stone said he prioritizes spending time with his family — wife Beverly; son Pete, his wife Katharine and their daughter Olivia; and son Marc, his wife Pam and their children Henry and Annie Gray.
“I want them (the students who shadow him) to see that medicine is what I do. I have a passion for it and I love it,” he said. “But it’s not my life.”
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