CORSICA, S.D. - A pioneer in the South Dakota health care industry, the state's top family medicine physician believes there's work to be done to provide the state's rural residents adequate access to medicine.

Marlys Luebke, a 28-year veteran of the Douglas County Memorial Hospital, was named 2017 Family Doctor of the Year earlier this month. She is the first woman to be awarded the "highest honor for practicing physicians," Luebke said Friday. Luebke is also a 1977 graduate of Parkston High School.

No stranger to the challenges of practicing rural medicine, Luebke believes patient access to speciality doctors in the towns she serves - Corsica, Armour and Stickney - could improve with the help of expanded telemedicine.

Telemedicine allows health care professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in remote locations using telecommunications technology such as video.

Luebke utilizes telemedicine at times for and with her patients to consult with doctors in cities like Sioux Falls, but, she said, there are some specialities that simply can't remotely do consultations.

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"Some are impossible, such as OBGYN, general surgery and orthopedics, because those are procedure-oriented, whereas some of the other ones are more consultation-oriented," Luebke said. "I wish we could get them all on telemedicine, and maybe someday we will, but I think we've come a long way already."

As a family medicine physician, Luebke treats patients from "womb to tomb and everything in between."

And Nicole Neugebauer said Luebke's passion for patients is obvious both in and out of the office.

A 17-year coworker and patient of Luebke's, Neugebauer said she has seen firsthand on multiple occasions Luebke's dedication to providing the best patient care for Douglas County residents.

"She puts her patients first and is always advocating for them, and that's something she's very dedicated to is the health of her patients," Neugebauer said. "She puts a personal aspect into things, which is really great."

But finding balance between caring for her patients and caring for her family has been Luebke's greatest struggle since starting in medicine. As a woman, she said, it is her natural instinct to be the caregiver for her family, but it is also her instinct to be the caregiver for her patient. Balancing the two and ensuring neither feels neglected is difficult, she said and seemingly impossible at times.

But, with the help of her late husband, Doug, the "juggling act" was made easier.

Doug died last year, but Luebke said he was instrumental in maintaining home life and raising their two children, Austin and Sarah, while she was attending school and working, which demanded the majority of her time.

"He was very supportive and maintained the residence in Corsica while I was in Vermillion and Sioux Falls, and that was seven years of separation during the week and being together on the weekend when possible," Luebke said. "He did a lot of childcare for our family and always was behind me and supported any of my dreams and goals."

Luebke attended college in St. Louis, then medical school from 1982 to 1986 at the University of South Dakota. Following graduation from medical school, Luebke did her residency at the Family Practice Center, now called the Center for Family Medicine, in Sioux Falls, then began her practice at the Douglas County Memorial Hospital.

And Luebke is no stranger to being the first woman to receive an award or honor.

In 1998 and 1999, she served as the first female president of the South Dakota Academy of Family Physicians. She then became a delegate to the American Academy of Family Physicians Congress of Delegates beginning in 2005 and became a voting delegate in 2010, a position she held until 2013. In total, she and Doug dedicated 15 years to the organization.

"I always had the interest in the sciences, and I guess I hadn't really thought about being a physician, per say, but my brother got admitted to medical school and I kind of emulated him," Luebke said. "Nobody else in my family is in medicine so we're kind of the odd ones out in that way."

But she wouldn't have it any other way.

A long-tenured career has had its ups and downs, but Luebke said Friday she wholeheartedly believes family medicine is the only speciality for her.

And being recognized as this the 2017 Family Doctor of the Year, what she considers the highest honor any physician in the state can receive, simply reaffirms her beliefs.

"I would say it has me feeling even more comfortable in what I do," Luebke said. "It's an affirmation that gives you a more positive outlook that maybe you're not out here struggling by yourself, that maybe you are doing something right."