Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham's west end is celebrating 100 years of service this year. As they commemorate providing healthcare to generations of Birmingham families, they also boast generations of healthcare providers.
John L. Mathews, DMD, MD, FACS, general surgeon and director of Bariatrics, completed his surgical residency within the Baptist Health System. Following three years serving as a missionary in Haiti, he returned in 1985 to join Princeton, where he has helped build the surgery department for 40 years and kept it on the cutting edge.
"The surgical residency program has been a major part of our service and ministry here," Mathews said. "We already had innovative surgeons when I joined. In 1990, we were among the first in the state to do laparoscopic cholecystectomy. We became a center of minimally invasive surgery, and we've done that MI approach for all kinds of surgery. With that same spirit, in 2010 we started doing robotics, and now we do most of our surgeries robotically. Baptist Health System/Tenet has been supportive in helping pursue minimally invasive robotic surgery to this day."
The medical center recently expanded the department with 16 new fully-integrated operating rooms.
Mathews views providing care to the west end community through Princeton as a sort of calling. "It's thanks to the hand of the Lord working here that we still have a hospital and ministry to serve this community," he said. "Geographically, it requires much more effort to maintain a viable place in the community as we daily compete with UAB and Ascension for patients. Many of our patients come from this zip code."
He passed his commitment for service on to his son Winn Mathews, MD who is now a part of the senior Mathews' practice. "I told Winn not to be a doctor," said his father. "When he went to medical school, I told him not to be a surgeon. Now here he is, and he's a very good one."
"I didn't originally plan to join my dad's practice," Winn Mathews said. "Doors opened and closed, and as I progressed, the opportunity came along, and we worked well together so we decided to continue. I'm glad it turned out this way."
Like his dad, he sees his work as a calling. "Princeton is more of a mission field," he said. "It's in an area of Birmingham that is underserved, with a lot of uninsured patients. We are here to help that population. We are blessed to be supported with the latest technology in robotics to help us take care of these patients better.
"It's become like a family with the people here. It's a home away from home for us, and my family has been a part of it for years. It's a great place to come and get well. It feels different from other hospitals because there's a close-knit community."
Daniel M. Avery III, MD agrees. An orthopedic upper body and hand specialist, Avery is also a second-generation Princeton physician. "The main thing about Princeton is how friendly everyone is," he said. "You walk through the halls and everyone speaks as you pass by. That warm family feeling that Princeton has is special and makes it unique amongst other hospitals in the area.
"Although I didn't work here at the same time as my dad, I have fond memories of Princeton from childhood. It was nostalgic to come back here. When I was probably six years old, I would come here before church while my dad went on rounds. He would take me to the doctors' lounge, and I'd have a doughnut. Then we'd walk down the hallways that look similar today."
While the look of the hallways may evoke memories of time past, Avery is quick to point out how the hospital has stayed up to date. "The updates they've done to the operating rooms are absolutely phenomenal. I work in several other institutions, but Princeton has amazing ORs, the staff is great, and we have wonderful teams. Princeton is the little diamond in the rough. Not everybody realizes how great the care here is. We really do an outstanding job of taking care of patients."
His dad agrees. When Daniel M. Avery, Jr. MD was considering moving his ob/gyn practice to Princeton in 1989, a cousin who had worked there for many years told him the hospital had survived all these years because they gave great patient care. "I found that to be the case," he said. "The 100th anniversary attests to that."