After navigating medical school and the military together, Drs. Harrison and Platz reflect on their over
The year is 2013, and the crimson light of a setting sun pours through the windows facing Poyntz Avenue bathing the interior of Harry’s Restaurant in the dreamlike ether of the magic hour. Maybe it’s this picturesque atmosphere or maybe it’s the wine bottle, sitting empty on the table corner that sways the heart and mind of the trepidatious Dr. Kyle Platz. Sensing the momentary lowering of Dr. Platz’s defenses, Dr. Bradley Harrison poses the question he has floated in the middle of their friendship for nearly two decades now, “Do you want to start our own family medicine practice?” Weary from searching for reasons not to take the leap for so long, Dr. Platz gives in, and trepidation turns to excitement as a life event almost 20 years in the making begins to unfold.
A Friendship Evolves
Drs. Harrison and Platz met each other at Central Methodist University in 1998 while attending undergraduate school. Dr. Harrison, a seasoned junior on his third or fourth major, had started college with the intent of becoming a high school football coach. But after discovering that coaching wasn’t the correct path for him, and having witnessed his mother’s fulfilling career as a nurse, he decided to pursue medical care just before meeting Dr. Platz. Meanwhile, Dr. Platz, a freshman, knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a doctor and was well on his way to achieving his goals. The differences in their college experience eventually worked out well for their shared career trajectory as they graduated simultaneously, “It took me five years to graduate. It only took Kyle three. He was on an accelerated track.” Dr. Harrison says with a smile.
After their initial meeting, while they were both starting their pre-med track, they had virtually all of their classes together. This was the beginning of what makes them great partners for private practice because after studying the same materials from the same professors together, they developed an innate ability to understand each other’s trains of thought. Their academic partnership brought them great success, and before long, it was time to start figuring out where they wanted to attend medical school.
They both decided to apply for military medical school scholarships, a program where a branch of the military pays for your tuition, fees, and living needs in exchange for seven years of service as a military doctor upon graduation. “It’s basically an ROTC program for medical school,” Dr. Platz muses. This method of paying for medical school also had the added benefit of allowing both men to serve their country, something that is visibly important to both, even to this day as attested to by the multiple flags, certificates, and patriotic paraphernalia adorning the walls of their business. After a formidable application and waiting period, they received the news that they had both been selected to receive one of the limited number of these scholarships offered in Missouri. “Of the six total available to all three service branches in the state, we had two at the same tiny school,” Dr. Harrison mentions with a sense of well-deserved pride.
Medical school was the first of only two stretches of time in their long friendship where they were separated. Even though they chose to go to different schools, they remained relatively geographically close — Dr. Platz attended Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences while Dr. Harrison attended University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine — and continued to communicate. While they were attending separate schools, they both decided to do their rotations at Fort Gordon, Georgia. They completed three years of residency there as well, where they finished as Chief Residents with their desks in the same room.
“Our first year as residents, the room with our desks was like a cell. The second year, we called our room ‘the fishbowl’ because it had two windows,” Dr. Harrison adds jovially, “And I started joking, even in residency, that we should start our own practice together.” “And I said, ‘You’re crazy, it’ll never happen,’” Dr. Platz recalls with a chuckle.
After completing residency, they both entered into the next era of geographic separation when they left for year-long deployments to different areas. Dr. Harrison spent his year in Iraq while Dr. Platz went to Afghanistan. And again, even though they were separated, they stayed in touch. “The time difference was less between us than it was to back home, so getting a hold of him was usually easier than reaching my wife in the states,” Dr. Platz remembers grinning. While these experiences definitely helped shape their personal views of medicine, they both handled this volatile time with humility, “I was the farthest forward [deployed] physician in the country at that time, but I didn’t have it as bad as some people, like the P.A.s and medics,” Dr. Harrison says.
After their relative deployments, both men found their way to working in the clinic on Fort Riley where they continued working together through the end of their military commitments. When their contracts expired, the two pursued different paths. Dr. Platz worked as a contractor on Fort Riley, while Dr. Harrison accepted a position at a private practice in Manhattan. They kept in constant contact, which offered Dr. Harrison plenty of opportunities to nudge Dr. Platz in the direction of the dream he had jokingly mentioned over ten years prior. And finally, a year later in 2013, that fateful dinner at Harry’s catalyzed the idea that would become Manhattan Primary Care, and the real work began.
“Neither of us had taken a single business class in our lives,” Dr. Harrison mentions chagrined. Although they both had the option to get an MBA simultaneously in medical school, neither had chosen that path since they weren’t sure that this eventuality would actually occur. “I think the first bank I went to I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I had an old copy of my resume folded up in my pocket,” Dr. Harrison recalls. “They would ask me what our business plan was, and I had no idea what a business plan was, I just knew that there hadn’t been a new clinic in Manhattan in nearly a decade, and we needed more.”
It was a steep learning curve, but with the help of a handful of local doctors, some of whom were also veterans, they were eventually able to navigate the swirling maelstrom of small business loan acquisition. Of course, after securing the loan, they both had to actually learn how to run a business as well as practice medicine. “I thought we were just going to have patients, they would just show up. But it turns out being a business owner is exponentially harder than being a doctor,” Dr. Platz admits. “In the military, for example, if there was a payroll problem, I would just send the person to the payroll office. Well, now, Bradley is in charge of payroll.”
With these new responsibilities as business owners, they had to find innovative solutions to problems. “Bradley was helping with construction, and I went to Fort Riley and took pictures of the rooms I worked in just to know what we had to order. We got gauze, we got tongue depressors, we got cotton balls,” Dr. Platz says while miming opening drawers, “So our rooms probably look exactly like those on Fort Riley.” Gently shaking his head, he continues, “I think every physician, ourselves included, just took for granted that all that had already been done.”
Even after all the work the two put in, it was still slow going in the beginning. “I remember checking our deposit system every day for weeks, saying ‘Where’s the money? It’s not working,’” Dr. Harrison discloses, the long-passed stress still evident in his voice. “But then, one day, I saw a deposit from Blue Cross Blue Shield for $92.00. That was our first payment. I just said ‘Oh my God, it is working!’ and we went to Little Apple Brewing Company for a beer.”
Since that first $92 payout, Manhattan Primary Care has absolutely flourished, opening up their practice to new, different patients constantly. And at its heart are two men who have been working together and trusting each other since they met in 1998 at Central Methodist University. “We know each other. I can say ‘Bradley, I don’t like how you’re doing something,’ and he tells me, ‘Don’t do it like that.’ It’s pretty militaristic or cut-and-dry, we don’t mince words. We know each other and there is a lot of respect there. I’ve even named both of his dogs, albeit usually accidentally,” Dr. Platz laughs.
Dr. Harrison retorts, “I know, I said this our first year of residency, you and I make a great team, we should really do this. And now, five-and-a-half years into the business we’re still going strong, and we recently signed another five-year lease.” And thus begins the next chapter in the lives of these two long-time friends, after decades of learning, working, and overcoming challenges together, the future of Manhattan Primary Care looks extremely bright.
Lt. Dan Phillips was born in Oregon and now lives in Manhattan, KS, with his wife, Ashley, and their five kids — a dog, cat, snake, and two rats. After a six-year stint in the Air Force, Dan attended Kansas State University, during which time he fell in love with the Manhattan area and decided to stay. When not writing, he works as a part-time pilot for the Kansas Air National Guard.