How one Mississippi physician went into politics
As one of the last physicians drafted by the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, Sidney Bondurant served his country as part of a search and rescue team. He fished pilots out of the waters and jungles of Southeast Asia, and tended to the wounds of rescued soldiers.
Upon release from the Navy, Bondurant completed his obstetrics residency and returned home to his native Grenada, Miss., where he delivered up to 300 babies a year, and settled into a comfortable lifestyle.
Or so he thought.
"The last four years have been nothing but downhill for medicine in our state," Bondurant says. His insurance premiums have more than tripled to almost $200,000 a year. With about 75 percent of his group's practice reimbursed by Medicaid, the insurance premium jumps quickly became "a financial impossibility," he says.
Bondurant became further frustrated as he saw large lawsuits forcing physicians from practice and his state.
"Physicians here feel like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery with trial lawyers holding the guns," he says. So, at 57, his children out of school, Bondurant decided to challenge the status quo and announced his candidacy for a seat in the Mississippi legislature.
A political novice, Bondurant at first ran as an independent in the heavily Democratic district, challenging an incumbent he would later describe as a "toothless lapdog for the trial lawyers." But soon reality set in and Bondurant decided his best chance was to face the incumbent in the Democratic primary. With malpractice reform a major issue in the state, money poured into the race for both candidates. Lawyers went with the incumbent; the physicians stood with Bondurant.
Campaigning on a pledge to reform the civil justice system, Bondurant's message resonated with voters. A few weeks before last August's primary, several well-known physicians in Bondurant's county announced they were moving out of state or closing their practices because of the mushrooming malpractice premiums. Patients came face-to-face with how high jury verdicts affected them.
As a physician, Bondurant says, "I wasn't used to tooting my own horn; I had to get used to that." Bondurant and his family had to contend with aggressive tactics by his opponent. Bondurant says the race was "really nasty." But in the end, he won with 53 percent of the vote.
With no Republican candidate in the race, Bondurant was home free and becomes a legislator this month.
He's cut back his practice, and is planning for a 70 percent income cut.
"Look, it's the right thing to do," he says. "If not me, who?"
Maybe, once again, Sidney Bondurant, MD, will be a rescuer. This time to his profession.
Are physicians in your community challenging the assault on the practice of medicine? E-mail me details at email@example.com. And to join other physicians who want to see the political system changed to better support physicians' practices and patients' health, subscribe to my free e-mail newsletter. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with "Subscribe" in the Subject line.
This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Physicians Practice.