Brother Dr. Russell Platt (initiated April 18, 1947 at Alpha Lambda, South Carolina St. University) came to Akron to train as a doctor because he knew that as a person of color in the 1960s, he would not get a job in a hospital in the south.
Platt knew “regrettably” that even though he wanted to practice medicine in his little South Carolina town, it wouldn’t be accepted culturally.
So Platt instead became the first African-American doctor to finish his residency at Akron City Hospital and stayed to build his life and practice in Akron. He would become one of the first African-American doctors to have an integrated practice of both Caucasian and African-American patients. Now, after 51 years in private practice and 57 years living in the community, he’s still going strong.
Platt, who will turn 90 on July 10, still sees patients three times a week and serves as the physician attending numerous health fairs for Summa Health.
He is likely the longest-serving doctor with an affiliation to City Hospital, officials said.
But retiring is “not in my vocabulary,” Platt said recently, while sitting in an exam room in a West Akron medical office he shares with another physician. He is temporarily using a walker in addition to his cane because “of a little fall,” but otherwise he’s still healthy, he said.
“I love what I do and without being presumptive I think I’m pretty good at what I do,” he said.
Platt’s patients have no problem with his age, saying he’s still got what it takes to care for them.
“He’s always been on point,” said Raniece Kirklin, who has been Platt’s patient for 15 years. Her two adult children and husband also see Platt.
“People look on the outside, but he’s very good with patients. He’s all right with me. We’re going to pray for 15 more years,” Kirklin said.
Platt, who says he has probably cared for more than 25,000 patients, isn’t taking new patients. People ask all the time, he said.
“My life expectancy is such that I don’t think it’s fair. I get asked fairly often and some of them say ‘I don’t care,’ ” he said.
And it’s “yet to be determined” who would take over for his practice, he said.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know that many of the younger doctors who are new in practice and the older, or those who are middle aged, they have patients and I don’t know if they’re taking new patients,” he said.
Platt’s current patients say they’ll stick with him as long as they can.
Dr. Brian Hayes, a radiologist at Akron Radiology Inc., has known Platt since Hayes was a student 24 years ago at what is now Northeast Ohio Medical University. Platt mentored Hayes and many other African-American students.
About 20 years ago — when Platt was 70 — Hayes chose Platt as his own doctor.
“I thought, ‘I’ll have a couple of years with him and find a new doctor.’ Here we are in 2017 and I still see him twice a year,” Hayes said.
“You hear that knock on the door. He smiles, he sits down, he starts talking with you and you’re the only thing he’s thinking about at that moment,” said Hayes. “He’s still as sharp as a tack.”
Hayes said Platt was a trailblazer.
“For all [doctors], especially for the minority physicians who got to be mentored by him and watched his example, his direct encouragement was one thing, but to watch him and how he practices and how he balances work and family, it’s encouraging to us that ‘I can do this and I can do this well,’ ” Hayes said.
Platt knew at an early age that he wanted to be a doctor. But that wasn’t common for an African-American boy in what Platt calls the “tiny town” of Latta, S.C.
His hero was his family doctor, Dr. F.L. Carpenter, who “was the old-fashioned doctor. He was the Norman Rockwell doctor. He did almost-daily house calls,” recalled Platt.
Carpenter, who was Caucasian, saved Platt’s life when he was an infant, reviving Platt after he went into respiratory arrest from a whooping-cough incident.
“When I was old enough to recognize this, my passion was to be a doctor like Dr. Carpenter, somewhat because he saved my life,” Platt said. Carpenter died before Platt went to medical school, but knew of his aspirations.
Platt told his mother when he was about 5 years old that he wanted to be like Dr. Carpenter.
“She said, ‘That’s some mighty big talk, son.’ I said, ‘I’ll find a way.’ She said, ‘If you decide to do that, we’ll do everything we can to help you,’ ” he recalled. “And they did.”
And in many ways, Platt has become that Norman Rockwell-style doctor himself. He is beloved in the community and a popular fixture at Summa community health fairs for about 15 years, said Robert DeJournett, Summa Health director of community relations and diversity.
Platt hands out his cellphone number for after-hour emergencies instead of having an answering service. His patients respect his privacy and don’t take advantage of having the number, he said.
“Why should I pay somebody else to call somebody else to tell me to call somebody else when that somebody else can call me themselves?” he asked. “Actually, you would think it would be a little abused. Many times, they don’t call when they should because they don’t want to bother me. It’s not a problem.”
Platt even carries a little black doctor’s bag, said DeJournett.
“He has built quite a reputation when we go out to the community. People are asking where he is,” DeJournett said.
It wasn’t always that way.
Early in Platt’s career, racism was still pretty blatant.
“Even his colleagues did not look kindly on him because of his color. He had to win them over and show that he could compete with the best of them,” DeJournett said.
Today, Platt is beloved by everyone and the type of doctor that aspiring physicians should emulate, said Dr. Dale Murphy, past president of the Summa medical staff, who has known and worked with Platt for more than 40 years.
Platt’s bedside manner is “what we try to teach our residents — to really know a patient,” said Murphy. “Russ takes care of people. Oftentimes there’s a big difference between giving someone pills to take and wanting people to be well.”
Decades of change
When asked how medicine has changed in his more than 50 years in practice, Platt said technology and politics of managed care and insurance.
“No longer do we have control of the patients — what they get or what tests you can do and what medications you can give. In fact, we don’t run the practices anymore,” he said.
But for as long as he can, Platt said he’ll continue to care for his patients. Earlier this year, he stopped making regular rounds at City Hospital.
“I have a bad hip and recently had a little accident. With hip prosthesis, those halls got longer and longer,” Platt said.
He also spends a lot of time with his six children and 10 grandchildren. His late wife of 50 years, Barbara, died unexpectedly in 2011.
Platt said he tells people to take time for their kids: “You can’t go back. Take care of those kids while you can — go to their concerts, take them to piano lessons, take them to horse shows, attend horse shows.”
And as for his work: “I would say that mine is a calling, really. It’s not just a career or a passion I chose.
“My journey to where I am now was a long journey and wasn’t that easy. Besides, I’ve put in too much time to give it up.”