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Farmington doctor is retiring from paperwork

Dr. Souheil Ailabouni opened his Farmington practice in January of 1982. He will close the doors for the last time at the end of August..

For three decades, Souheil Ailabouni has operated a family medical practice with pen and paper and a focus on building connections with his patients.

He doesn't like to call it an old-fashioned way of doing business, but as it becomes harder and harder to be low tech in a doctor's office, Ailabouni has decided it's time to close the doors on the clinic he has run nearly continuously since he finished his residency. He doesn't want to deal with the cost of computerizing everything or the hassle of learning a new system, and he hates the idea of staring at a computer screen when he should be talking to his patients.

"That's not me," he said. "I like to talk to you face to face."

Ailabouni already gets penalized for writing prescriptions with pen and paper, and with the amount of paperwork required of doctors about to go way up, he figures now is the time to walk away.

Ailabouni was a boy growing up in Palestine when he first got the bug to become a doctor. There were no doctors in his small town, and when his uncle got seriously sick they had to take him to Nazareth for care. From that point on, he said, he didn't want to do anything but medicine.

Ailabouni came to the United States for school and learned Spanish so he could attend medical school in Mexico. He did his residency in Pittsburgh before returning to Minnesota, where his wife grew up, to open a clinic.

Ailabouni bought the Farmington clinic in November of 1981, before his residency was over, and opened the doors on Jan. 25

Farmington made a good impression on Ailabouni before he had even unpacked his furniture. There was a huge snowstorm that winter, and when Ailabouni got to the house he had rented at the time he expected to do a lot of shoveling. Instead, he found a neighbor had cleared his driveway. They became friends, and Ailabouni still treats the man's family.

Ailabouni has developed a lot of connections like that over the years. He and his wife, Melly, still live in the same house they bought when they moved out of that rental. Their children graduated from Farmington High School. He has delivered more than 500 babies for Farmington families, and at one point he was treating four generations of the same family.

He closed the doors of his downtown clinic for five years starting in 1995 to open a new clinic attached to Farmington's hospital. But he knew he couldn't stay there when the clinic was sold and the new management started dictating how many minutes he could spend with each patient.

Ailabouni wanted time to get to know his patients, and to know how they were doing beyond what he could see on a chart.

"Even 15 minutes is too much for earache or sore throat, but if somebody comes in going through divorce and depressed, I don't look at the watch.

"I loved it that way, because I knew my patients very well."

Ailabouni takes some satisfaction in knowing he is still around while that clinic is long gone.

Walking away from the relationships he has formed will not be easy. Ailabouni has already had a lot of tearful conversations with longtime patients. He's had patients he hasn't seen for years come in for one last checkup before he goes.

He still hasn't quite gotten used to the idea himself. Just the other day he was on the phone trying to schedule a personal appointment for late September. He told the person on the other end of the line he would have to do it in the afternoon, because mornings in the clinic are usually busy. It wasn't until after he hung up the phone he realized what he'd done.

Ailabouni is not walking away from medicine entirely. He expects to take a couple of months off, then find a job in an urgent care facility or other clinic.

He's not retiring from medicine just yet, he said. Just from paperwork.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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