Dr. James Brosseau has mixed feelings about retiring from his medical practice at Altru Health System-a career that spans four decades of caring for an untold number of patients in the clinic, hospital and nursing home in Grand Forks.

"I'm pretty ambivalent about it," he said. "It's moving on to a different phase of life."

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Brosseau, who practices general internal medicine with an interest in diabetes, will be ending his practice almost exactly 40 years since the day he opened it, Sept. 18, 1978.

"Medical practice is all about continuity," he said, "and it feels like I have too many loose ends and unfinished business left in my work, but I guess that's inevitable when you retire."

His last workday is Friday.

"I'll be seeing patients that day, at least until noon," he said. "I'll probably spend the rest of the day just getting my paperwork done."

Then he'll turn the page on that chapter of his life and begin another. But the impact of his dedicated efforts remain.

He's touched many lives over the course of his career, colleagues and patients say.

Brosseau established and directs the Diabetes Center at Altru and has served as medical director for the Valley Eldercare Center for more than 30 years. He sees patients at the Altru Family Medicine Residency on the UND campus.

In addition to diabetes patients, Brosseau also sees adults with general medical issues, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Right time

No single reason prompted his decision to retire, he said.

"I just felt I had reached an age where it would be better to turn things over to the younger generation," said Brosseau, 74.

"Things have changed so much in my time. The whole culture has changed. I think I'm the oldest one at the clinic who's still working full time."

Although advances in technology have improved health care in many ways, there are drawbacks, he said. "The presence of the computer in every exam room can be an impediment between the doctor and patient.

"Patients, of course, are the top priority."

He will miss his patients, he said, and the people he works with every day, "some-like those in housekeeping and at the switchboard-never get recognized, but are so important to the functioning" of the healthcare system.

The Drayton, N.D., native earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology at UND and completed the first two years of medical school at UND in 1968. He earned the Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Minnesota in 1970.

He took one-year internship training at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, then was drafted into the military.

During two years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, he was assigned to Indian reservations in the Dakotas and Minnesota, working primarily at Fort Totten and Fort Berthold.

The experience fostered his interest in diabetes, a significant health problem among Native Americans, and "that interest carried over into my career," he said.

Brosseau took internal medicine training at Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin, returning to Grand Forks in 1978.

Patients will miss him

Longtime patients, including LaVonne and Al Johnson of Grand Forks, say they will miss him and the quality of care he shows his patients.

"Dr. Brosseau has been our primary care physician for many years," LaVonne Johnson said.

"He has guided us through many health issues, and has always been there to give words of support and encouragement."

Brosseau goes the extra mile for his patients, she said.

"He has personally delivered medications to the house, checked on us as patients, and stopped to say 'hello' when he is out bike-riding."

Johnson also knew him as a teacher at the UND medical school where she and Brosseau both worked for many years.

"The students and alumni of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences have been blessed to have had Dr. Brosseau as a leader, mentor, teacher and friend," she said. "His enthusiasm for teaching and learning is remarkable."

She and her husband are grateful for "the care and compassion" Brosseau has shown them, she said. "He will be greatly missed."

Esteemed by colleagues

Dr. Casey Ryan, who has practiced with Brosseau for 39 years, said the two often touch base in the morning, before seeing patients.

"We're two peas in a pod," he said. "He's an excellent doctor who always put patients first. He is well-esteemed by his colleagues because of how he works and how he takes care of patients."

Brosseau "will be missed by his patients, and certainly by those of us who work with him," Ryan said.

"Everyone is replaceable, but not everyone is replaceable in the same fashion. I would put Dr. Brosseau in that category."

Among the accolades Brosseau has received, he is most proud of the "Master of the College" award which he received three years ago from the American College of Physicians, he said. He is the only internist in North Dakota who holds that distinction.

Brosseau said he is grateful to his family and "owes a great debt" to his wife, Jolene, for their love and support.

"They have had to put up with absences," he said.

In retirement, the couple plans to visit their sons, Ben and Tom, who live in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Salt Lake City, Utah, respectively. Tom and Elizabeth Brosseau have a daughter, Johanna, who is almost a year old. Daughter, Caroline Sapa, lives in Grand Forks.

Brosseau also intends to visit the grave of author William Faulkner in Oxford, Miss.

"That's something I've always want to do, since he was his favorite writer when I was growing up," he said.

He is hoping to be involved with the Honors Program at UND, and is considering other offers and opportunities, he said.

"I've enjoyed my years at Altru and at Valley Eldercare. It will be very hard to leave."

Over more than 40 years of caring for patients, he's learned that "everybody is fighting a difficult battle," he said. "Everybody is trying to do the best they can. We need to allow them some leeway; we cannot convert them totally to someone else's way of thinking.

"And, understanding our patients, that's the best thing we can give them-that and giving patients our time. That's what we, as physicians, should be doing, in my opinion."

If you go:

What: Open House in honor of Dr. James Brosseau on his retirement

When: 3-6 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Altru Family Medicine Residency auditorium, 725 Hamline St., Grand Forks

For more information, call (701) 780-6800