by Gerard Walen
Dr. Dennis Saver ’72 studied biology at New College, envisioning a career in medical research. But he also developed a commitment to public service that led him in a different direction, to a career that has endured for four decades and brought him statewide and national honors.
Saver is a board-certified family physician and geriatrician based at Primary Care of the Treasure Coast in Vero Beach, but after graduating New College, he worked in the inner city of Philadelphia as part of the Model Cities Program, a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. It aimed to coordinate and develop myriad anti-poverty initiatives and led Saver to shift his focus from research to hands-on doctoring.
“I decided that people really needed doctors to take care of them,” he said.
After graduating from the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now the Drexel University College of Medicine) in 1977, Saver joined the National Health Service Corps. This eventually led him to practice in “a very rural area in West Virginia,” he said, as part of the NHSC Loan Repayment Program.
He stayed for 10 years before moving back to Florida in 1990. Though the Vero Beach area did not have the crushing poverty of Appalachia, there still remained a need to provide care for the underserved.
“I got involved with the county medical society in developing a volunteer program in which private practice physicians would volunteer on a rotating basis to take care of people who were medically indigent,” he said.
Saver remains with the program, which marked its 25th anniversary in 2016, and he became president four years ago of an associated charitable foundation that raises funds to supply needed medical equipment for the patients.
Over his career, Saver has served on numerous panels and has received myriad awards and honors. In late 2015, Florida’s surgeon general appointed him to the state’s Physician Workforce Advisory Council, where he and 12 other physicians will advise the Surgeon General’s Office on issues related to the state’s physician needs.
“We will make recommendations about what kind of doctors are going to be needed in Florida, what the issues are with distribution problems,” he said. “For example there are more doctors in cities and not enough doctors in rural counties.”
Another pressing issue the board could tackle is that there are too few residency programs in Florida for the students graduating from its medical schools.
“We export graduating students to other states because we don’t have enough capacity to enroll them in post-graduate programs in Florida,” Saver said. “It’s not a good situation.”
In 2001, Saver received what he called “the most impressive honor of my entire career.” The American Academy of Family Physicians awarded him with its highest honor – Family Physician of the Year.
In the annual recognition program, each of the 50 state chapters of the AAFP choose a doctor as its Family Physician of the Year, and a panel then selects one for national honor. It recognizes a physician who is “directly and effectively involved in community affairs and activities that enhance the quality of life of the community.”
“I was a relatively young guy at the time,” Saver said, “and I didn’t expect to get that kind of an honor at that point in my career, so that was pretty amazing.”
Looking back, Saver said that the people and the atmosphere of New College have shaped him. He credits the “marvelous faculty,” especially his adviser, the late Dr. John B. Morrill.
“I credit a lot of my interest in living things and physiology systems to him,” he said. “He was a pretty exciting guy to be with; he was a real character.”
But beyond any one person, the College’s environment also has a lasting influence. “New College allowed a sense of curiosity, and I learned how to ask good questions and think about things with perspective – kind of a ‘what if’ perspective,” he said. “I found that useful over my entire career.”
Saver completed his residency at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida and currently serves as part-time faculty at both the UF and Florida State University medical schools. So who does he root for during the rivals’ annual football game?
“Well, I’m a Gator from way back – that’s where I did my training,” he said. “You’ve got to be true to where you start from.”