OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU to honor "maverick" physician at commencement

06/05/1998

CORVALLIS - Robert W. Bomengen has been called a family practitioner, a frontier doctor, and the quintessential rural physician. Some folks call him just plain "Dr. Bob."

For a small town physician who practices in Lakeview, Ore., he's made a pretty big impact.

And this Sunday, June 14, Oregon State University will honor him with a Distinguished Service Award at the university's annual commencement ceremony.

In 1994, Bomengen was honored as the national Family Doctor of the Year by the American Academy of Family Physicians - the first Oregonian so honored. That award came to years after his community nominated him for Oregon Family Physician of the Year, which he won.

Then in 1995, while speaking to medical students at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, he volunteered his services when a bomb exploded at the nearby Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Dr. Bomengen hopped aboard the nearest ambulance and went straight to the scene. He was one of the first physicians to arrive and the only one equipped with emergency and trauma supplies. He spent the entire day there, setting up triage sites, evacuating buildings and caring for victims.

It was no surprise that Bomengen was ready. As a family physician in Lakeview, he is one of three doctors serving 10,000 people in an area that includes parts of southern Oregon, northern California and Nevada. So vast is that rural area that he has been known to hop into a plane to make emergency house calls - always carrying with him his physician's "black bag."

Bomengen has been called a "maverick" because he has been known to take matters into his own hands when an emergency awaits, wrote Fred Horne, dean of OSU's College of Science, in nominating the Lakeview physician.

"If a patient needs an appendectomy or a Cesarean section immediately, Dr. Bomengen does the work himself since waiting for a specialist might endanger the life of the patient," Horne said.

Bomengen graduated from OSU in 1965, then went on to receive his medical degree four years later. Although he initially intended to practice as an orthopedic surgeon, he worked for a time as a general practitioner on an Indian reservation in southern Montana. There, he discovered that his real desire was to practice rural family medicine. He has never looked back.

Bomengen has become something of a legend in southern Oregon. In addition to his medical practice, he serves as team physician at the local high school; he coordinates the county's sports physical program; he acts as the Lake County Public Health Officer; and he has done stints as the Lake County Mercy flight pilot and the coordinator of Northwest Air Medical transportation.

Patients are as devoted to Dr. Bomengen as he is to them. His recipe is simple: "Take care of your patients," he says, "and they will take care of you."

After patient care, Bomengen's greatest passion is recruiting young doctors to do the same kind of work. Said one state health expert: "If we could clone Dr. Bomengen, we would solve Oregon's rural health problems."