Meet our Docs: Longtime Casper physicians, Tom and Mary Frances Burke, join Cole Creek Primary Care

By Kristy Bleizeffer Apr 2, 2020

Now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, protecting your overall health is as important as ever. That means staying in touch with your doctor or healthcare provider. Virtual appointments for Drs. Tom and Mary Frances Burke are available through your smartphone, tablet and computer. Call 307-473-6768 to schedule, and someone will assist you if needed.

Wyoming Medical Center is proud to welcome Drs. Tom and Mary Frances Burke to Cole Creek Primary Care, a new practice at our East Campus. The Burkes have practiced together in Casper for more than 30 years, and will continue to care for their patients at Cole Creek. They are also accepting new adult patients.

Tom grew up in Casper while Mary Frances grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. They met at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine. 

“One of the unusual things about practicing together is we have patients who can see either one of us, so there is a lot of cross-consultation and second opinions,” Tom says. “We have been doing that long enough that I think patients feel comfortable knowing we are both there.”

At Cole Creek, the Burkes join Kate Score, M.D., who welcomes patients of all ages.

Read more about the Burkes and their long careers in Casper in the interview below.

Where did you grow up, and how did you become interested in medicine?

Mary Frances: I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and I worked as a candy striper at Children’s Mercy in high school. I told my guidance counselor that I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist and she said, “Have you ever thought about becoming a Physician?” 

Had becoming a doctor not occurred to you before that?

Mary Frances: No. I’m not sure why. I think that I believed it was probably too far out of my reach, but I did know that I wanted to help people.  

So then I applied then to the medical school at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, in which you are accepted right out of high school. It is a six-year program that goes 11 months a year, 6 days a week.

And what about you, Tom?

Tom: I grew up in Casper, and I became interested in medicine probably around the age of 14.  I had a brother killed in an automobile accident. I was obviously interfaced with the medical world, and that is when the idea really started planting. 

In high school, I went to Wisconsin to boarding school and I heard about the medical school program at the University of Missouri. It was a relatively new program, and I applied and ended up going there. 

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Mary Frances: We were like the fourth of fifth graduating class. 

Tom: Yeah. So it was a brand new school.  UMKC is a unique program in that they introduce you to clinical medicine from the very beginning. You round on patients with a small group of 10 to 12 students, and the docent professor would basically teach you a lot of the different aspects of that patient’s particular medical problem. 

Mary Frances:  We learned our basic science while seeing how it is important to the patient. 

Tom: That is where we actually met. Mary Frances was a year behind me and we were introduced by mutual friends.  We became better friends a couple years later when we were assigned to a medical team together, and we had some leadership on a medical unit. Still, we didn’t start dating until three months before I graduated.  I was already committed to an internship in Denver, so we had a long distance relationship for a year. She was accepted into a residency in Denver and a couple months later we were engaged.

What did you like about him, Mary Frances? 

Mary Frances:  I think the thing that attracted me the most was his gentleness and his kindness.

And Tom?

Tom: My answer would be very similar. Those qualities, but also just her incredible ability to work and her great conversation.  We can sit down and we can talk, and we got to know each other on a real deep level. We had some patient interactions, too. There was a patient that Mary Frances admitted from a clinic to the hospital, and I was on call and the hospital was understaffed that night. Mary Frances didn’t have to stay that night, but she did, and we shared the responsibility of this critical patient.  It was successful, the woman lived, and I appreciated her act of service. 

We just really got to know each other well before we started dating and were good friends.  There were some crises that came up on our unit and we could talk to each other about those. 

Mary Frances: I think we became leaders. 

How did the two of you decide to settle in Casper?

Tom: Having been a native, I always wanted to come back, and I had contacts in the medical community that were obviously interested in us coming back. 

Mary Frances: And for me, we always just joked that it was part of the prenuptial agreement.  But it ended up being a very good place to raise kids. 

Tom: We both wanted to have a family and practice medicine.  We certainly planned to practice together. We didn’t quite know how that was going to work immediately, but then we developed this practice where initially I was practicing and then Mary Frances was a full-time mom. When our youngest entered kindergarten, she worked 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Both of you are very involved in Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Tell us about that and how you became involved. 

Tom: We had been married seven years, so it was in 1987, and we were invited to a marriage retreat weekend. We really learned to communicate on a deeper level, and it was just fantastic for us.  It has really translated, I think, in our practice. We have both become better listeners. 

Mary Frances: And we present at the weekends now. We have probably presented a hundred weekends since then. In the past, we have been involved on the Advisory Council to the North American Leadership.

How do you think that translates into caring for patients?

Tom: The communication technique is feelings based, and so it has really allowed us to ask questions in a way that we can really understand what the patient is feeling. I am not specifically talking about a pain scale of 1 to 10, but rather emotional feelings.  If a person says, “Well, I just don’t want to do that,” we can probe further. We ask them about how they feel about taking a new medication, or if they’re worried that they have too many medications already. And patients typically will relate to us in a way that allows us to get through the barriers of communication.  

Mary Frances: Neither one of us stop our feelings. They are right out front, and I think when you deal with feelings on that level every single day, you are comfortable expressing how you feel in a way that doesn’t put the other person down or tear them apart. That enables us to work better.  I think we solve problems before they become a crisis.

So, Mary, after so many years, has Casper grown on you?

Mary Frances: Oh, it is great.  We had five kids in six and a half years, and it was a great place to raise kids. It is nice to have three places you have to get to before 4:00, and you can get across town and not be snarled in traffic. That was a real godsend. It is big, but not too big. And the people are really trustworthy.   

Tom:  You know, it is interesting because my parents of course raised a family here, so we knew a lot of their friends. At least starting out, our practice was largely made of that generation, and it was enjoyable getting to know those folks in need of medical care. It has also been fun getting to know people who I went to school with and taking care of them and their parents.  I think that a lot of people look at us as not only as their doctors, but maybe as friends. They feel pretty comfortable that we are a part of Casper too, you know, because we really want to be here.

Why the transition to Cole Creek Primary Care?

Tom: There are a lot of layers to it. One factor is we approached the hospital about starting a women’s clinic.  In the 1990s, I was on the board of Wyoming Medical Center and that was part of the future plan at that time, but it’s never come to fruition. So we actually approached the hospital again and they asked us to work up a proposal. This started a long journey of figuring out what a new clinic would look like.   

We also knew that the hospital of course had purchased the East Campus, and timing wise and  location wise, it was a good fit to make the transition.

Mary Frances:  And we are bringing our practice with us. That is an important part as we look to our future and knowing our patients are established with care.  

Tom:  We see ourselves playing a role in recruiting new physicians to Casper and being able to share all of our experiences to try to help people understand what the medical community is like.  Our hope is that this clinic will be fully staffed and that people will have more choice for primary care physicians. I think it made sense to us because neither of us are at a point where we want to retire. We are engaging these transitions really intentionally.  It is kind of a forward thinking move of how we can give back, and how we can continue to grow ourselves.