Dr. Williams retires after 41 years of practice in Rochelle

‘I think the hardest part about retiring is how much I'll miss the patients’

Jeff Helfrich
Posted 1/31/22

Dr. Nancy Williams retired last week after 41 years in town as a family doctor.

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Dr. Williams retires after 41 years of practice in Rochelle

‘I think the hardest part about retiring is how much I'll miss the patients’


ROCHELLE — When Dr. Nancy Williams came to practice in Rochelle in Aug. 1980, she moved four hours away from her family. 

Williams retired last week after 41 years in town as a family doctor. Over that time she built a family of her own. On top of that, she built relationships with her patients and their families. 

“I think the hardest part about retiring is how much I'll miss the patients,” Williams said. “People that I see frequently or even the ones I see every six months or once a year. I have a relationship with them and I'm going to miss that. As I was thinking about all of this, I thought, 'Maybe doctors should move every 10 years so they don't develop such ties with patients.' And then I thought, 'Well what fun would that be?'”

Williams said it’s been a blessing to have developed relationships with patients. While growing up, her children called a lot of people in the Rochelle area grandma and grandpa. 

“People have been very gracious in including us with their families and inviting us to weddings and picnics and all sorts of things,” Williams said. “It's been great.”

Williams was recruited to Rochelle during her third year of residency. She was “amazed” when she first came to see Rochelle Community Hospital and everything it had to offer and how advanced it was considering its size. 

Over the years she’s seen much more advancement at RCH. She seen specialists start to come to the hospital to offer their services to local patients, such as cardiology and nephrology. 

As a solo family practice doctor in a town of Rochelle’s size, Williams said her role is to know a lot about a wide variety of health issues and to have the ability to direct patients to specialists. 

“With technology and with the specialists we have readily available within 35 miles, it makes our job easier because we don't have to do everything,” Williams said. “We're able to be the gatekeeper and take care of what we can care for. What we do well, we do. And then see that the patient gets the care that they need elsewhere."

The final two years of Williams’ career came during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she called “extremely difficult and odd.” At times, a screening process was required to determine whether or not a patient could come into the office to be examined. 

During the more dire parts of the pandemic, only those with the greatest need were allowed into her office. Williams said she did quite a bit of work over the phone with patients helping them to maintain problems and long-term issues they had and making sure they had the medications they needed. 

Williams moved her practice recently from her Carrie Avenue location to the RCH Family Healthcare Clinic as a way of downsizing and backing off and making sure that her patients had a place to go once she retired. She also made a decision at that point to not admit patients to the hospital. 

“I had the hospitalist do that if they needed to be,” Williams said. “I was not involved in inpatient care of COVID-19 patients. I can't imagine how intense that was. I know how intense, but I did not experience it firsthand. And I have great respect for all of the nurses and the physicians who have taken care of those patients because it hasn't been easy."

During the pandemic, Williams spent time worrying about patients who may have been deferring care due to fear of COVID-19 infection. 

“A lot of people have delayed procedures,” Williams said. “Some not always because they wanted to, because they were forced to because hospitals could not provide them with the care. They were so heavily-involved in COVID-19 and worried about non-emergent patient exposure. It's been difficult all around."

When reflecting on the things she enjoyed most during her 41 years, Williams first mentioned obstetrics and delivering babies at RCH. She also talked about being involved with Focus House as its medical director and working with the residents there. 

Williams recalled a near drowning at Spring Lake in 1984. The patient was kept alive by the Rochelle Fire Department and he was brought to RCH and later transferred to Rockford and released 12 days later. 

“That same patient brought his mom in to see me for the last time recently,” Williams said. “He wanted to see me and thank me again for my participation in his episode. That was so wonderful to see that outcome. I've had some other tragic things happen to patients that have ended up turning out with relatively good outcomes and we talk about those things periodically when I see them. I don't know that there's any one thing I can bring to mind because there are so many. I'll have a lot of things to think about over the years."

Williams plans to spend her retirement with family and pursuing projects that she hasn’t had time for over the years. She plans to continue living in Rochelle. 

The physicians at RCH’s Family Healthcare Clinic will be absorbing most of Williams’ patients. RCH will be recruiting someone to take her place in the future, she said. Williams said seeing her patients for the final time was difficult to do. 

“I had a few that made appointments just to come in and say goodbye,” Williams said. “My very last patient was my first receptionist here. It was ironic. And she didn't really even plan it that way either. We started out together and we ended up ending here together."

Williams said running a solo family practice for a small town isn’t for everyone, but it was for her. Some physicians don’t want to go to the grocery store in town and run into 15 of their patients. 

“I feel like because of the length of time, I've taken care of generations in the same families,” Williams said. “I feel like I've become a part of their family and they've become a part of mine. I think it's nice to be able to walk down an aisle or into a store and be able to say hi to someone and call them by name."