The Doctors Williams
Drs. Thomas Williams and LaTonya Williams make an impact in the community through their love of medicine
Article by Michael DeVault | Photography by Joli Livaudais
When Thomas Williams came to Monroe for a residency at E.A. Conway Medical Center, he expected to be here for just a few years before leaving to embark on his career. “I thought I was here for a one-time stop, but just loved it. I became a full fledged family practitioner and have been here ever since,” says Williams, now in his fifteenth year as a family practitioner. Williams and his wife, LaTonya, operate a family medical practice in Lakeshore, an endeavor they’ve worked fifteen years to build together. “We’ve really become part of the community.”
Beyond the office on Lincoln Road, both Thomas and LaTonya also do house calls at several area nursing homes. To their patients, they are amazing and attentive providers of medical care. But to limit the impact the Williams clan has on the community to just their (growing) pool of patients would be a disservice.
Look closer at the lives Thomas and LaTonya Williams, and it’s easy to find why they are February’s Bayou Icons.
A NATIVE SON RETURNS
When Thomas arrived at Conway for his residency, he was hardly a stranger to the community. In fact, he’s a native son of the Twin Cities. “I was born in Monroe, strangely enough,” says Thomas. “But Jackson is home.” Thomas graduated from Jackson State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. He then attended the University of Missouri-Columbia Medical School, where he received his medical degree.
LaTonya is a native of Ruston and, for most of her education, she stayed pretty close to home. She received a Bachelors and Masters in Nursing from Grambling State University, where she also earned her Family Nurse Practitioner, or FNP. But, LaTonya took the time to head down the road a little, to the University of Alabama-Birmingham for a doctorate of Nursing Practice.
For the Doctors Williams, their education is all about patient care. Spend just five minutes asking the Williamses about themselves, and it quickly becomes apparent they’re more interested in talking about something else. You. Both Thomas and LaTonya approach patient care from a holistic perspective, treating each patient as an individual with particular feelings and desires. Also, no one knows your body like you, according to LaTonya. “They know their body, so I like to listen to the patient, to make sure I’ve heard everything they’ve said about what’s going on with their body,” LaTonya says.
Thomas agrees. He also says he and his wife try to address not just the physical needs of a patient, but their emotional needs as well. That means getting to know each person and developing a relationship with them. “So I really try to get to know that person before I get into their disease state,” Thomas says. “We really try to become an extension of their family here in this office.”
And, as far as acute medical care is concerned, both of them work to get beyond a “take this prescription” treatment model. “I make sure to equip the patient with things they can do at home, to treat the whole patient,” LaTonya says.
A SOUTHERN CRISIS
Given their focus on treating the whole person, it’s no surprise they’ve picked up a cause or two along the way. For LaTonya, that cause is fighting the epidemic of childhood obesity. Through the Williamses’ family clinic and a series of public events, LaTonya spearheads implementation of the state Department of Health BodyWorks program. BodyWorks is centered on educating children of all ages to make wise choices and to practice portion control. Also, the kid-friendly informational book encourages exercise, either through team sports or via individual activity.
“A parent is only around a child so many hours a day,” LaTonya says. “If you give a child the knowledge to make healthy selections, they’ll play a part in their own positive outcomes.”
Both of the medical practitioners recognize the growing problem of childhood obesity, especially in the southern United States, leading LaTonya to label the problem “a southern crisis.” She recalls the exact moment she recognized the totality of the problem. A mother brought in her five-year-old son for treatment unrelated to the child’s weight. When nurses weighed the child, he came in at 135 pounds—an adult weight.
“When you see that, you understand it is a crisis,” LaTonya says. “And the prevention is going to come primarily by education.”
In order to combat childhood obesity, the Williamses work together. Thomas tries to schedule students on Friday afternoons, or in after-school hours, so that students don’t miss school. He offers larger kids a diary to track progress. And, possibly most importantly, he tries to get to the root of why the child is overeating. LaTonya says, too, parents and kids do better when both are educated toward the same goal: maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“Sometimes, food is more of an emotional comfort item,” Thomas says. “Are they eating because they are hungry? Or are they eating because they are sad.” LaTonya also tries to avoid saying a “bad” word.
“I do not like to use the word diet because it does not go with what my thoughts are when it comes to childhood obesity,” she says. Dieting describes changing eating habits to lose weight. Instead, people should be focused on healthy lifestyles in the first place—healthy food choices and exercise.
“That doesn’t mean they have to be involved in a sport. It can be simple outdoor activities like riding a bicycle or jumping rope,” LaTonya says. Now more than ever, the Williamses say it’s time to take action. “If I go to the mall and randomly choose five children, three or sometimes four of the random five I look at are overweight or obese,” Thomas says.
THE WHOLE PERSON
Time and again, Thomas Williams’s patients say the same thing. He spends a lot of time getting to the root of a problem. There isn’t a formula he uses to determine how much time he’ll take with someone.
“I try to give patients the time they need,” Thomas says. “I don’t have a certain parameter or number. That’s set, that’s according to whatever is going on that day, that moment.” His rule of thumb: not any more, nor any less, time than the patient needs. “I never want to leave a patient that has needs or who wants something I haven’t addressed,” Thomas says. While it can be time consuming, the practice is rewarding.
“That person, that relationship I develop, that’s my patient,” Thomas says. “I’m a hands-on family doc.”
Family practitioners stand as the front-line of patient care. When the first symptoms of a major illness arise, chances are a family practitioner will recognize those symptoms and, if not make the primary diagnosis, refer the patient to a specialist who locates the source of the symptom. Throughout the entire process, Thomas is a guiding force, coordinating with medical colleagues and the patient to make sure nothing goes unchecked. “I feel a patient comes to me to manage their health, not to just be a component of their health,” Thomas says.
Though it takes a considerable amount of time and energy—Thomas was completing charts during this entire interview and interrupted charting to answer several texts about patient care from other doctors—he takes it all in stride. “That’s the way I was taught to practice medicine when I was back at Missouri,” Thomas says.
OUTSIDE THE CLINIC
Outside the clinic walls, the Doctors Williams work just as tirelessly. They’re parents of two children—a son, age 12, is in junior high at St. Frederick High School; their daughter, 7, attends Jesus the Good Shepherd. LaTonya does free community health symposiums, which she always finds rewarding. And Thomas spends time doing something he loves, a second vocational calling of sorts.
“The thing I enjoy the most—basketball coaching,” Thomas says. He got involved coaching recreational leagues a few years ago. During the years in between he branched out, coaching YMCA basketball, even the school team for a time.
LaTonya beams with pride when she begins talking about the role her husband plays in the lives of the children on his teams. She points out many of the kids in the various leagues come from homes that lack positive male role models. “Some of these kids have never been to a restaurant,” LaTonya says. At the end of each season, that’s why Thomas makes the effort to take them out for a good meal each season, at a nice restaurant where each kid can order “what they want” and maybe try a dish or two they’ve never had.
“A lot of these kids have never gone somewhere and had to sit at a table,” Thomas says. The mentoring role is one LaTonya repeats in her own way. She serves as a judge and booster for the Miss Louisiana Outstanding Teen Pageant. And, she is a Girl Scouts troop leader, where she gets to do her own variety of coaching. “Part of my time spent with them is to encourage them to be women of strong character, to love God, to love themselves and to love others,” LaTonya says.
She also takes the girls out into the community to provide service. On one trip over the holidays, LaTonya recalls, she took her troop on a caroling trip through several nursing homes. One of the girls noticed some of the residents were crying and asked LaTonya if they had made the people sad. “I said, ‘No, you made them happy,'” LaTonya said.