Age did not stop Fletcher C. Derrick Jr. from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2003.
The mountain in Africa is just one of the high points for Derrick, now 80, who is dubbed one of the oldest practicing urologists in the country, and considered something of an institution in some medical circles.
Derrick, who also likes to bike on his days off, says he has no interest in downshifting.
Instead, the James Island resident is maintaining the active lifestyle and the commitment to the medical profession he's been practicing since 1966.
"Even now at a reduced hourly time, I still enjoy patients and the challenges of urology, and I have a feeling that some docs retire too soon," Derrick said. "They have all the knowledge and training and so forth and so on. I can't speak for them why they want to leave, but I never really wanted to retire, but I will slow down, which I have done."
With nearly five decades in the profession, Derrick was recently honored with a presidential award from the American Urological Association.
"Presidential citations are given at the discretion of the (association's) president to give special recognition to those who have made an impact on the urological community," said Christine Frey, spokeswoman for the group. "Dr. Derrick was honored by our immediate past president, Pramod C. Sogani ... for his long-standing contributions to urological education, patient care and superb clinical judgment and surgical skills."
Bradley W. Steele, a Charleston urologist, said Derrick has been a tremendous help to the medical community.
"He's an unbelievable resource because there are just so few things that he hasn't seen," Steele said. "You can bounce the unusual off him if you need to, you just can't learn all expertise from books and he's something like a walking urology encyclopedia of sorts."
A humbled Derrick said the award marks a high point for a career that started after changing from an engineering major at Clemson University. He earned a medical degree from Medical University of South Carolina in 1958.
"That was out of the blue," Derrick said about the association's award. "I didn't know it was coming, but it feels good to be acknowledged by your colleagues."
Derrick started off his practice with the military, serving in places such as Germany and Fort Benning, Ga. He later shifted to the private sector.
That includes his current practice at Lowcountry Urology Clinic in West Ashley, continued work with MUSC, and a stint at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Some milestones in Derrick's career include being part of the team that performed MUSC's first kidney transplant in 1968, in addition to helping establish a kidney transplant program while at George Washington University.
After a few years at George Washington, Derrick declined an administrative position and decided to return to Charleston.
"I felt my clinical skills were better and I wanted to do that more than being in an administrative manner," he said.
His wife, Martha Derrick, describes the reaction when the department head learned the news:
"The dean thought he was crazy to pass on that," she said. "He had tenure."
Derrick describes no regrets, but rather the chance to help patients.
That includes helping develop new surgical procedures to treat heavily inflamed kidneys, in addition to studies with fertility.
Other highlights on Derrick's resume include medical articles, books, videos about certain procedures, in addition to being tapped to be a consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army, and medical missions to countries such as Nepal and Nigeria.
In addition to his private practice, Derrick is still a clinical professor of urology at MUSC and an emeritus member of Clemson University Board of Trustees.
Derrick attributes his active lifestyle to wanting to keep busy. That's something started with chores such as a paper route when he was a youth.
The habit of waking early continues today since Derrick says he's often up at 5 a.m., tending to errands like caring for his signature rose garden.
"I have always enjoyed what I do and I enjoy getting up in the morning and going to work," he said.
Weekends aren't much for down time either. Instead, Derrick often can be found in the gym or riding his bicycle. The exercises have changed over the years.
"I do low-impact things like the stationary bike or the street bike," he said. "I don't do jumping jacks, rather those are things I enjoy watching."
Derrick and his wife also are described as globetrotters of sorts.
The two have visited all seven continents, and often the reasons have been deployment for the armed forces or a medical convention that also doubled as a vacation for the couple.
"Until the last four or five years, nearly every big trip we took has been with a medical convention associated with it," Derrick said. "We could go to enjoy the international information that was being shared and we also saw what was nearby."
One overseas trip in 2003 was to hike Mount Kilimanjaro.
Derrick describes a lengthy training period to gain endurance and the ability to handle conditions like thinner air at high altitudes.
Before taking on the mountain, Derrick had to overcome some other adversities.
Derrick battled some health problems that threatened to force him to retire his practice.
That's when Steele was tapped to join Derrick's practice.
"They recruited me here to take his place and by the time I got here, he had already had heart surgery and was planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as part of the healing process for his heart," Steele said. "Within six months of me coming here, he was already back to work and he was full-time."
Steele said Derrick ended up being his mentor and an advocate to help grow his practice.
"Fletcher was a better advertisement than anything here because he's already well-respected and his word is as good as gold," Steele said.
Steele also describes Derrick as a physician who would treat patients on a level not often seen in the practice.
"He doesn't treat anybody differently and he has always been so open to talk about things that are non-medical, and for that patients have a trust in him and they can tell him anything and they can get advice on other things."
Steele added that Derrick's office also is busy with people seeking advice beyond medicine.
"He's known for his roses. People come to the office for advice on their roses and that's unusual for a urology office," he said.
A different pace
Reluctantly, Derrick says he's had to alter the way he practices urology.
That includes no longer doing surgical procedures and shifting to a part-time work schedule.
"Years ago we used to laugh and say we worked just half days - just 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. - and that was also working weekends and at the (emergency room) and (intensive care unit) too," he said.
Today, Derrick's practice is about "99 percent male" patients and a schedule of 10 hours a week.
"I think I'm at a point now that I can maintain this pace for probably as long as I'd wish," he said. "I'm in good health, and, of course, we all have some aches and pains, but I am in good health and see no reason not to."
Brad Nettles/Staff Dr. Fletcher Derrick sits with his wife, Martha, in their James Island home. The 80-year-old practicing urologist recently received a Presidential Citation by the American Urological Association.×
Derrick at Lava Tower in Kilimanjaro National Park en route to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.×
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