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Doctor's journey leads from Arabian palace to Marion

McVay happy to be in rural town after a year as prince’s physician

Staff writer

Marion residents may not think they have much in common with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. A checkup with new St. Luke physician Tim McVay would be one piece of common ground.

McVay talks about his yearlong stint in the Middle East’s largest country as though he had worked in Newton, not some 7,500 miles across the world, acting as physician to the crown prince. Since McVay left Saudi Arabia, the crown prince has become the king.

“I was hired Memorial Day of 2013, and we were there within three months,” he said. “I spent a year there, and I got to know him pretty well, actually, and his wife and kids and grandkids. Now he’s the king.”

McVay said it was mission work that drove him to practice in the Middle East. He’s been doing medical missions there for 12 years. He said he got a hunch to go to Saudi Arabia, so he contacted a recruiting agency, and “it just got stranger and stranger from there.”

“They kept telling me, there’s this one thing that’s open, and everybody was being really cagy about it,” he said.

McVay wound up interviewing with a former White House physician, who held the position from the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency to the beginning of Barack Obama’s, to be doctor to the crown prince.

His family moved to Riyadh and lived in the royal palace there. The culture was very different, he said, but his family cherished their experience.

“There’s hardly a day that goes by in our house that they’re not saying something to one another in Arabic or saying, ‘Remember so and so?’” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was a blast.”

McVay said he’s glad to be back stateside.

He came back to Wichita and worked there for several months at GraceMed Health Clinic. He took on a teaching position in Alabama for a friend of his. He still wanted to do missions to the Middle East a couple times a year.

When he found out about the opportunity at St. Luke, he was excited to find what he saw as an ideal fit.

“This was kind of more like what I was looking to do, just as a rural kid,” he said. “I just like the feel of a small town.”

McVay was raised in rural southern Illinois, near Alto Pass, a town of fewer than 400 located a couple of hours south of St. Louis.

From such humble beginnings, McVay has been amazed at his journey so far.

“My life has been crazy,” he said. “I would have never thought I’d be in a palace in Saudi Arabia. When I was a little kid, I just liked playing basketball, and liked politics and all that jazz. I would have never dreamed of doing some of the things I’ve done.”

So for McVay, his position in Marion presents a chance to catch his breath a little.

He said he’ll still be able to teach his class in Alabama and do a couple mission trips in the Middle East each year, just like he wanted.

“(Hospital CEO) Jeremy Ensey and the board have been incredible,” he said. “I’ve seen places run poorly, I’ve seen places run kind of average.

“When I came up here, and I talked to a number of docs that worked here, they all, almost to a person, said the same thing: ‘Great staff, great hospital, they know what they’re doing.’”

McVay still lives in Wichita, as he says he doesn’t want to put his family through another move.

But he looks forward to getting to know the people of the Marion community.

“I breathe easy when I’m coming up here,” he said. “I love people. I’m excited about coming up here. I think it helps everybody if we’re all doing what makes us really come alive.”

He appreciates the experiences he’s had, but is ready for a new chapter.

“I don’t think I was meant to live in a palace,” he said. “This is more my style.”

Last modified May 20, 2015

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