CHAMPAIGN — He’s treated countless patients in his own hometown. And after nearly a half-century in medicine, Dr. William Youngerman of Christie Clinic is hanging up his otoscope.
The 78-year-old ear, nose and throat doctor is retiring at the end of the day Friday, and with mixed feelings.
He felt it was time, he said. But he’s loved being a doctor.
“I love my work, and I believe that caring for you brought out the best in me,” he wrote in a farewell letter to his patients.
Most kids who saw Youngerman will probably remember the balloons.
Blowing up a balloon for each child after he examined them was one of his personal touches. Another one was asking kids sitting in his exam chair what they thought was in their ears — and then pretending to discover animals.
How he kept kids calm during exams was simply this, he said: “I had fun with them.”
Youngerman grew up in Champaign, the son of an otolaryngologist — the branch of medicine focused on the ears, nose and throat. His dad founded the otolaryngology department at Christie Clinic in 1934, and father and son got to practice together at Christie for three years.
While Youngerman considered following in his father’s footsteps when he was younger, he also had an interest in helping solve world economic problems, so he majored in international economics when he went to college.
Looking back now, he sees the same desire to help people in his decision to go on to medical school, he said.
After his residency in Chicago, Youngerman served in the Air Force for two years in Vietnam and Sacramento, and considered staying in California until he got a job offer he couldn’t refuse — from his dad — and returned to Champaign to begin his long career at Christie Clinic in 1973.
Patients came first
Youngerman has always looked out for the interest of patients and of Christie Clinic, and he loved taking care of kids, said Dr. William Pierce, the clinic’s chief medical officer.
“He’s one of these fellows who’s always at work for the patient,” Pierce said.
After decades at Christie Clinic’s main facility in downtown Champaign, Youngerman moved recently — along with several other specialists — to the clinic’s newest building at Carle at the Fields.
He initially thought the location on the south edge of the city might be harder for people to get to, he recalled, but he’s come to see that it’s more convenient for many patients since it’s right off Interstate 57.
Youngerman said he’s always considered Christie Clinic to offer the best of both worlds, focused on the patients and a great place to work.
He recalls one of the best-known quotes of one of Mayo Clinic’s founders, Dr. William Mayo, when he talks about what’s important in health care: “The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered.”
“If you focus on that, everything else follows,” Youngerman said.
Not only has he loved being a doctor, he said, otolaryngology is a great specialty. He’s gotten to see patients in the office, perform surgeries and treat both kids and adults.
“And people get better mostly,” he said.
One of Youngerman’s favorite patient memories, which still makes him laugh, is about a woman scheduled for surgery on her vocal cords. As he was going through pre-surgery instructions, he advised her to rest her voice by refraining from talking for three days in advance, and the woman’s husband said, “How about making that three months.”
Youngerman gradually cut back on his surgeries in recent years, and stopped doing surgeries entirely about a year-and-a-half ago, he said. About six months ago, he also cut back his hours to part time.
And while it was a hard decision to retire, he said, he’s looking forward to having more time to spend on his other interests and with his family.
Six years ago, he said, he wised up and got married — for the first time — to a woman he’d known for many years, Candace Branigan. He also has a 104-year-old mother in Urbana he wants to spend more time with.
One thing he can tell you he definitely won’t be spending his retirement doing is lying around on the couch watching TV.
On the horizon is more travel, with some destinations on his list places his patients traveled to and told him about, Youngerman said.
He’s also looking forward to taking classes in topics that interest him, and being a bit more involved in the downtown properties he and his family own. Many other people have overseen those properties, while medicine has come “first, second, third and fourth” with him, he said.
Youngerman said he’d also like to find a way to keep his hand in medicine, though he doesn’t have any specific plans for that.
If he’s got one regret in his life, it’s not having children of his own, Youngerman said. But he feels happy and fortunate. He’s got a great family, he lives in a great community and he’s been doing what he loves.
“I consider myself to be very fortunate,” he said. “And I hope I’m going to be fortunate for a lot longer.”