BLUE RAPIDS – After 39 years of family practice, Dr. Kenneth Duensing will retire from Community Memorial Healthcare (CMH) in early June 2022. He will celebrate his retirement with a round trip reception hosted by Duensings and CMH on Friday, June 3, 2022 The reception will be held from 3-9 p.m. at the Duensings’ home at 312 Alcove Dr., Blue Rapids. Brats will be served from 5 to 7 p.m., and a band will play from 6 to 8 p.m. Cake will be served throughout. Patients, friends, family and the public are invited to help him celebrate his long career in medicine.
Dr. Duensing grew up in the Bremen area, attending Immanuel Lutheran School before graduating from Marysville High School in 1972. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Kansas in 1976 and attended pharmacy school before enrolling in medical school. He graduated from the University of Health Sciences in Kansas City, Mo., in 1982 as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). He then completed a residency in family medicine at Rocky Mountain Hospital in Denver, Colorado, before being recruited back into private practice in Blue Rapids.
“My first job was working for a farmer in the Bremen area in eighth grade, when the farmer’s son was conscripted to go to Vietnam,” Dr Duensing said. “I learned about hard work, long hours and independent thinking,” he said. After throwing lots of small bales of alfalfa for local farmers, Duensing got her second job at 16 – working as a nurse at Community Memorial Hospital in Marysville. “It was there that I had my first experience of patient care – I saw what it takes to provide hands-on care at all levels,” he said. “I worked with several nurses like Donna Marples and Dorothy Peschel, who I would also work with as a doctor.”
Duensing said working with Dr Harold Lawless as a nurse and later as a medical student strengthened her desire to practice rural family medicine. “Dr. Lawless was really my influence to come back,” he said. “I knew I wanted to practice in a rural area, but I wasn’t sure where. And when I was recruited by Dr. Lawless , I felt good.
“When I came back to Marshall County, some said it wouldn’t be good to go back to where you grew up, but I always thought it was positive,” Dr Duensing said. “I had so many patients, and I still have, that I went to elementary school with, to high school with. I grew up in this community and I have a lot of people who come to see me because they know me. And I never felt it was negative.
Duensing joined Dr. Lawless in his family’s private practice in Blue Rapids in 1983. “When I started practicing, family doctors did a lot more procedures than they do today,” Duensing said. . “We were orthopaedists, obstetricians, cardiologists and surgeons. We dealt with heart attacks in Marysville without sending those patients. We’ve pinned hips and done a lot of abdominal surgeries. Doing tonsillectomy in children and adults used to be routine, but now it would be unheard of for family practice.
“It was just a different time, because at that time that’s what family medicine was doing, and I luckily had the advice of Dr Lawless to really help me with all of that.
Dr. Duensing attributes the most significant changes in his practice to the implementation of electronic medical records.
“When I started practicing, I really felt like direct patient care was ninety percent of my time and only ten percent paperwork. Now I feel like thirty percent of my time is spent with patients and seventy percent is spent on paperwork or dealing with insurance companies,” he said. “I didn’t grow up with a computer in my hand, so it really takes a lot of extra time.”
“But, the positives are that we’ve had such medical advances with cardiology — stents, bypasses, heart transplants,” Duensing said. “Stents and bypasses are so common now, with good results. Joint replacement is commonplace.
Duensing has worked at Blue Rapids Medical Clinic since he began private practice with Dr. Lawless in the fall of 1983. They added a third physician, Dr. Buck, for a short time, then when Dr. Lawless retired in the ‘ In the 1990s, the private practice was taken over by CMH and the staff became employees of the hospital.
Dr Duensing said he thinks the biggest challenge for rural healthcare in the future will continue to be politics and politicians and how they vote to fund healthcare reimbursement in rural areas.
“Rural areas typically have a large number of Medicare or uninsured patients,” he said, “and I think (how hospitals are paid) will be key to rural hospitals surviving — so than the recruitment of doctors to work in rural medicine”.
Duensing said on retirement that he planned to “keep busy with the cattle”. Duensing and his wife, Zita, purchased a ranch in 1997 from Dr. Lawless when he retired, who had purchased the land in the 1960s from Koester Hammett. Duensing and Zita raise Black Angus cattle registered as the Alcove Cattle Co. and hold a bull and heifer sale every March at their bull ranch in Blue Rapids. They usually have about sixty-five cow-calf pairs and sell about thirty bulls and twenty heifers each spring.
“Alcove Cattle Co. has always been my ‘out’ after leaving the office,” Duensing said. “I didn’t play golf, I didn’t fly airplanes – I had cattle as a hobby instead. For my midlife crisis, I didn’t go buy a fancy car or ‘chase women’, as they say – I bought cattle.
“And you know, we’re talking about my 39 years in medicine, but I really feel like this is also celebrating Zita’s 39 years in medicine, because she really had to take over in our family when I couldn’t. “, Duensing says. “She did everything for the children herself, because I worked all the time, and with the cattle – it’s the same thing; when I worked, Zita worked the cattle. I really want to give her credit – she wasn’t raised on a farm, and I grabbed her out of the big “town” of Marysville and turned her into a doctor’s wife and a rancher’s wife.
“Early in my practice, people were less likely to go to the emergency room than they are now for certain incidents, like lacerations. They were just appearing on the steps of my house, bleeding,” Dr Duensing remarked. “We kept a hose near the porch so that after I left with the patient to go to the clinic, Zita could hose down the blood from the steps.”
“Unfortunately, I’ve missed a lot of my kids’ activities and some out-of-town family weddings due to work hours and being on call every weekend,” Duensing said. “I think young doctors now have a better work-life balance, which has helped them.”
In addition to tending to their livestock, Duensing and Zita plan to travel to national parks, possibly spending a summer working in Yellowstone National Park, he said, and spending more time with their grandchildren. “My wife also found lots of Kansas day trips to do – we get a daily email titled “Kansas Only” from which we’ve recorded ideas.”
Dr. Duensing said, in particular, that he would like to follow wolves in Yellowstone in the Lamar Valley, maybe even follow some of the wolf packs. “The reintroduction of wolves has changed the entire environment of Yellowstone in such a positive way that it is even beginning to change the landscape of the park; it even changed the flows,” he said.
He said what he will miss most about practicing medicine is not seeing his friends as often, because they were also his patients. “And just the day-to-day work with a large group of nurses and nursing aides,” he said.
His advice to any student interested in pursuing an education or career in medicine would be to “come back – create your own community here with other young professionals.”
“There are so many benefits to having a family raised in Marshall County: there is more one-on-one time with teachers and coaches, and opportunities to play sports and do activities here more than in other cities,” he said. “And kids who participate in activities in high school have so many more opportunities and doors opening up for them in life because of the lessons they learn from being involved.”
He also advises spending time working in the medical field before applying to medical school. “Get a job as a paramedic, paramedic, etc.,” he said. And if you want to practice in rural America, he said, find a spouse also from a rural area, or someone who “gets it.”
Dr Duensing said being a doctor is still one of the best jobs in America. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in being able to help someone, and there’s the possibility of helping someone every day,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty with any of our healthcare jobs today, but there’s uncertainty in a lot of career paths these days.”
“I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to go into medicine for the initials of the name or for financial reasons,” he said, “because medicine is going to impact your whole life.”
Dr. Duensing is board certified in family medicine, is a member of the American Osteopathic Association and the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, and is a member of the Kansas Association of Osteopathic Medicine, of which he served as president in 1997-1998.
He was medical director of the Frankfurt Nursing Home for over thirty years, served one term on the Blue Rapids City Council and on the Valley Heights School Board. He and Zita have also been active in fundraising for the Marshall County Arts Cooperative concerts presented in Alcove Spring (The Beach Boys and KANSAS). They were also the Marshall County Leaders for the Kansas Honors Program for several years.
In his spare time, Dr. Duensing enjoys golfing and watching the KU Jayhawks and Green Bay Packers basketball and football teams.
He and Zita, an accountant, have been married for 45 years and have three children and six grandchildren. Their son Christopher and his wife Brittany live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Christopher works for a private contractor who trains Air Force personnel on drones and is a member of the Air Force Reserve. The Duensings’ daughter, Kimberly, is a middle school English teacher in Loveland, Colorado, where she lives with her husband Brian and their children. Their son Kirk, his wife Lisa, and their family live on the ranch in Blue Rapids; Kirk is employed by Bankers Life, Manhattan.