Community celebrates Merrick's 44 years of service

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Dr. Merrick and his wife, Karen, celebrated with dozens of community members during a reception hosted by Guttenberg Municipal Hospital on Friday, March 27. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Dr. Robert Merrick retires this month after 44 years of practice as a physician in Guttenberg. “Dr. Merrick has been a model physician,” says long-time coworker Dr. Andy Smith, who admires Merrick’s longevity, compassion, and dedication to the community.

Merrick and his wife, Karen, raised their three children, Kate, Emily, and Paul, in Guttenberg after Dr. Downey hired Merrick in 1971. “No one wanted to hire me because they thought I’d be drafted,” Merrick explained. “Dr. Downey said he’d take me as long as he could have me. I never got drafted.”

Over the course of his career in Guttenberg, Merrick mentored many medical students. In 2008 he was awarded Medical Educator of the Year by the Iowa Academy of Family Physicians. The award is given annually to recognize quality in family practice education to a member of the Academy involved in teaching at a student level, resident level or in the continuing education of family physicians. “He's been very involved in education and self-education, and continues to read and learn. He wanted to be the best doctor he could be, and he certainly is,” said Smith.

Merrick has spent countless hours in the emergency room and late nights delivering babies. The late Robert and Phyllis White checked in to Guttenberg Municipal Hospital on Jan. 13, 1972, and hours later Dr. Merrick delivered their daughter, Jody Wille. Wille’s daughter, Whitney Klein, was delivered by Dr. Merrick on May 12 of 1990, and he delivered her grandson, Peyton Lacy, 23 years later. 

“He’s a great doctor… He’s seen all my kids growing up for ear infections and everything else,” Wille told The Press. “It’s nice because the care is consistent and you have a connection with that doctor,” she said of the lifelong care she and her family received from Dr. Merrick. 

Doctors Smith and Merrick met at a residency recruitment fair in the 1980s when Smith was graduating from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. While other booths contained hospital adminstrators and chamber of commerce officials giving away candy bars, coffee mugs, and other trinkets, Smith recalls doctors Merrick and John Goeppinger standing before a simple map of Iowa with a pin in the city of Guttenberg. 

“Everyone around them had kazoos and all kinds of stuff going on… It was getting a little much, everybody trying to woo you with little trinkets,” said Smith, who was glad for the opportunity to speak with other physicians. “These guys were very straightforward, and they were both there.” Following that conversation, Smith worked one summer of his residency in Guttenberg and has now spent over 32 years working side by side with Dr. Merrick. 

“I’ve worked with him a long time. He’s such a role model as far as his compassion for people. He listens; he’s really concerned about his patients.” Smith describes Merrick as a problem-solver in the workplace who has been almost like a big brother to him. 

Smith does have one regret about his time spent working with Merrick. “When I’m off a call, he’s on a call, so I haven’t gotten to spend a lot of free time with him because of that. It’s kind of a disappointment. I certainly hope to get to spend more time with him now.”

Merrick does have plans for his newfound free time. “I’ve got a bucket list like anybody,” he smiles. “I’m going to get back to fishing, put in my garden, and spend more time with my grandkids.”

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