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Rural Health Care Provider Spotlight: P.J. Stiles

"One of the best aspects of working in rural medicine is the ability to make a big difference."

P.J. Stiles portrait
P.J. Stiles, M.D.

Through the window of the surgical suite, P.J. Stiles watched. Freshly graduated from college and about to begin medical school at KU, Stiles had landed a summer job in housekeeping at Clara Barton Medical Center in Hoisington, Kansas. His assignment was the surgery unit, and he did not miss the opportunity to chat up the nurses and surgeons about what he had witnessed through the glass.

“They put me in the operating room, so I would wait for the OR to get done and watch through the window,” said Stiles, who is now the general surgeon at Clara Barton. “That’s how I kind of started thinking surgery is pretty cool.”

Stiles didn’t just become a general surgeon. He is the EMS director for three local communities, the coroner for five counties, the trauma director for two hospitals and the chief of surgery at Clara Barton.

An unexpected phone call during his fifth year of KU School of Medicine-Wichita's general surgery residency program set him on the journey of a lifetime.

Stiles had been applying to multiple sub-specialties, not sure which path to follow. He was interested in pediatric surgery and transplant surgery. One day, while traveling home, Stiles received a phone call from Dr. Robin Durrett, an established surgeon at Clara Barton, who was unexpectedly retiring. Dr. Durrett asked if Stiles wanted to take over his practice.

Dr. Stiles in operating room

‘General Surgery Rock’

Dr. Stiles and family on vacation Stiles grew up 12 miles west of Hoisington in Claflin, Kansas. If he took over Durrett’s practice, he’d return home. He’d control his own time, which meant the ability to move his schedule around and participate in his kids’ lives. Plus, he truly enjoyed general surgery. 

Stiles credits Durrett for stabilizing general surgery in the area during his many years of service. Stiles agreed to take over in 2015, after completing his residency program.

“I’m never going to retire,” Stiles said. “I’m obsessed with the operating room. I don’t see myself going anywhere. Hopefully, I’m going to build up the health care here and be that general surgery rock the area needs.”

 He’s already considered a strong leader within the organization, said Debra Brockel, a physician assistant who has worked with Stiles at Clara Barton since he took the post eight years ago.

 “He is well respected by not only our medical staff of physicians and providers, but by everyone from every department,” Brockel said. “He is so approachable and always interested in all of us as individuals. He is invaluable to our organization.”

Full Schedule with Balance

Dr. Stiles and family on vacationSplitting his time across multiple clinics and counties requires a daily balancing act. Stiles performs surgery at Clara Barton Medical Center on Mondays and Wednesdays. He sees patients in the Hoisington clinic on Tuesdays and in Great Bend on Thursdays. Friday is his outreach day, which he spends traveling to other nearby hospitals and clinics for surgeries. He also travels to Larned and Ellsworth to work in their clinics once a month, and he’s in Russell twice a month seeing patients in the clinic and performing surgical procedures in the operating room.

It's a full schedule, but Stiles controls his time so he can regularly go mountain biking and attend his four young sons’ sporting events. This balance is critical because he is often on call amid the surgeon shortage in Western Kansas, which provides him with a diverse workload of surgical procedures. Stiles has mostly performed minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery since 2019, bringing the latest surgical technology to his rural patients.

One of the best aspects of working in rural medicine is the ability to make a big difference, Stiles added. 

“You can be so involved and put your fingerprint on so many things,” Stiles said. “Administration is always running stuff by you. You have so much more control and you really get things how you want them, which is really awesome, not to mention the community support.”

Nursing and Science

While growing up in Claflin, Stiles’ mom worked as a nurse and his dad as a science teacher and sports coach at Central Plains High School. Influenced by his parents, Stiles views his decision to become a doctor as a nice marriage of nursing and science — and he’s not the only doctor from the dynamic family.

His younger sister, Roxanne, who also went into medicine and became a general surgeon, is Stiles’ surgery partner at Clara Barton Medical Center. His younger brother Corey works as an accountant and lives in Wichita. His older sister, Jackie, was the subject of a 2022 movie The Jackie Stiles Story, documenting her success as a basketball player; she is a personal trainer who runs basketball camps and owns her own gym in Springfield, Missouri.

Stiles, who met his wife Robyn in a concession stand line at a high school basketball game (Chase vs. Claflin), decided to become a doctor while attending Cloud County Community College in Concordia, where he played basketball.

After earning his biology degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Stiles graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita in 2010.

Although the rural doctor shortage is mostly associated with primary care, Stiles said there’s a profound but often overlooked general surgery need for so many procedures, from colonoscopies to trauma.

“To me, it’s not a big deal to perform a procedure here or there, but people think you’re a hero out here,” Stiles said. “People are so appreciative.” 

If you are interested in knowing more about opportunities in rural underserved areas, please visit our Kansas Recruitment and Retention Center or email Natalie at 

Institute for Community Engagement

University of Kansas Medical Center
Institute for Community Engagement

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