Health

Iowa City doctor has been seeing patients for 50 years, with no plans to stop

Dr. Craig Champion, 84, is a longtime advocate of universal health care

Dr. Craig Champion poses for a portrait Oct. 16 in his office at Mercy Towncrest Internal Medicine in Iowa City. Dr. Cha
Dr. Craig Champion poses for a portrait Oct. 16 in his office at Mercy Towncrest Internal Medicine in Iowa City. Dr. Champion is celebrating his 50th year as a physician with Mercy Iowa City this year. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — One Iowa City physician who reached a major milestone in his career this year has no plans to slow down any time soon.

Dr. Craig Champion, an internal medicine physician based in Iowa City, is celebrating his 50th year in practice at Mercy Iowa City.

The 84-year-old doctor still works full time seeing patients in his clinic. Before the pandemic, he also volunteered regularly at the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.

As a doctor who is known to have once accepted a pie as payment from a patient, Champion is an advocate for providing care to anyone who needs it despite their ability to pay. He said his policy is never to send a patient to collections for unpaid medical bills.

“If they are unable to pay or pay as much, I always make arrangements with them,” he said. “For those who are uninsured, I always make it clear to them that they should pay what they can, and if they can’t, then that’s the way it is.”

Affordable health care has become a hot-button issue nationwide, and universal health care became a prominent policy point among a number of presidential candidates during this election cycle.

But to Champion, the concept is nothing new. He remembers debating about federal proposals for universal health care coverage during high school.

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He said he thinks major reform of the country’s health care system is inevitable, adding that “some form of universal health care seems more than reasonable.”

“It’s long past due,” he said. “It’s crazy how hospitals have been bearing the brunt of costs for non-paying patients, and insurance companies too.”

He continued, “You’d just like to see people get cared for and you’d like to see a reasonable system of payment too.”

Champion started his medical career in Iowa City, where he’s been ever since. A native of Osage in Northern Iowa, he graduated from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in 1962.

A stint in the military shortly after medical school ultimately pushed him to choose internal medicine. He had been drafted into the Navy and served for about two and a half years, including more than a year on a nuclear missile-carrying submarine.

“I like the variety and the contact with people,” Champion said. “That’s one of the nice parts of internal medicine, you don’t just see a patient and do whatever you do for them. It gets to be a relationship, you get to be friends with them.”

He completed his four-year residency training to become an internal medicine doctor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

He started a job on July 1, 1970, as a physician with Towncrest Internal Medicine, a medical clinic owned and operated by Mercy Iowa City. According to Champion, he’s had the same office within the clinic for the past 50 years.

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And in that time, he has seen plenty of changes in medicine, including improvements in imaging — such as CT scans and MRIs — as well as medications, such as antibiotics and chemotherapies.

Champion, who was schooled during a time general practitioners were more common, has also watched the growth of subspecialties among physicians.

“Those have been big advances, to the benefit of the patient, no doubt about that,” he said.

He sums up his secret to a long career with one word: “availability,” or being accessible to all his patients at any time.

Unlike when he first started working at Mercy Iowa City, Champion said it appears to him that patients are moving away from relationships with their doctors. Unless patients have chronic health conditions, they can access urgent cares for any acute illness or injury.

“I think the closeness to patients has changed a lot in my lifetime — but it’s not all bad,” he said. “I hope my approach is like it’s always been, and try to deal with the whole patient.”

Champion has no firm retirement plans, and plans to continue working as a doctor for “as long as I can.”

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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