Photo by Emily Buss
Dr. Frank Bures, dermatologist and humorist, is retiring after 35 years of healing skin and cracking jokes.
Yellow plastic chainsaws, talking axes, and joke books aren’t typically found in a dermatologist’s office, yet, there they are in the office of Dr. Frank Bures. After 34 years of cracking jokes while diagnosing patients, the humorous Winona Health dermatologist is retiring. His sense of humor, a personality trait he has had since childhood, is what patients are likely to remember most, said Bures.
“I always made fun with people, but I never made fun of people,” Bures said. “…I always took seriously each patient’s issue. If they feel worried, then there is a problem that I need to fix. And, I like fixing things.”
Bures grew up in northern Iowa and attended Drake University to study his first passion in life, music. An avid and accomplished clarinet player, Bures was studying for a degree in music when he met his wife, Ruth. “She came all the way from Minneapolis to Iowa just to meet me,” Bures joked.
Bures completed his music training at Drake and received a teaching certificate. During the Vietnam War, Bures briefly played with the military musicians at West Point. However, after years of playing, he had to put the instrument down because of sensitive teeth.
“When you are a musician, you have to play four, six, eight hours a day and my teeth just couldn’t handle it,” Bures explained. “Music was a tough job.”
The change in career path sent Bures back to his alma mater to begin pre-medicine courses. After graduating from Drake in 1965, he entered medical school at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, where he found his other true calling.
“I remember studying all the time and after being up all night, I felt wasted,” Bures explained. “I didn’t want to feel like that when I entered my career. Then I was on a daytime dermatology rotation in general practice, and thought this was the best option for me. You can’t deliver a pimple in the middle of the night and the biggest emergencies are when people are out of their medicine and their acne is coming back.”
After receiving his M.D. in 1974, an internship led Bures to Denver, then on to Madison, Wis., for his dermatology residency. He began working full time at Winona Clinic in 1978, and moved with his wife and three small children to Winona. With roots firmly planted here, Bures resumed his clarinet playing, joined the Winona State Orchestra, and taught music lessons. “My wife (also a musician) and I also joined the Municipal Band in 1979,” Bures said.
Within a few weeks of taking his new position at Winona Clinic, Bures was treating 150 patients a week for dermatology problems. “I liked the idea of fixing something for somebody, and this job allowed me to do that,” Bures said. “I’ve been given this responsibility to help my patients and I don’t give up easily.”
One thing Bures relied on was his unique sense of humor. In the bottom drawer of his desk are a number of toys that get the attention of his young patients and help calm their fears of the doctor. “I told my patients all the time that I like to have fun and patients that have grown up remember my acts,” Bures laughed.
He pulled out a large plastic axe that emitted an eerie laugh when he smashed it on his desk. Next, he showed off a small yellow chainsaw that mimicked the sound of a real one. When he wasn’t playing with a syringe-through-the-head costume accessory, he was cracking jokes.
“Studies have shown that when people laugh, it releases endorphins, chemicals that nerves release that bind to narcotic receptors the same way morphine would,” Bures explained. “So, when I get my patients to laugh, it lowers the high blood pressure they often exhibit when they don’t know what the heck I’m going to do to them.”
He laughed when he said that pretending to chop off patients' fingers with a miniature plastic axe often warms them up. He admits that patients often smirked at his cleverness when they encountered the name on one of the four offices he consulted in–"Suite P," "Suite T," "Suite S," or "Suite R."
In just eight days, Dr. Bures will see his last patient at Winona Health, although he said he may make a house call or two after that. As he contemplates retirement, Bures said it is a difficult concept to grasp.
“You know, it’s a little scary. I’m kind of like a farmer, I don’t know if I want to quit yet,” Bures said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to sell the cows just yet. It’s going to be weird because I’m just so used to going to work, but it will be fine.”
Since much of his family—and all six grandchildren—live in the Twin Cities, Bures and his wife bought a small home there last December to be closer to them. He said he looks forward to spending weekends there. However, Bures said he has no plans to completely give up his passion for helping others.
“I most likely will find some place to work that is nonprofit or be involved with other charity medical work,” Bures said. “I’ve lived a very full life, and I am very blessed to have been part of a team that works so well together. I respect the patients that have come through my door, and I am privileged to know the staff that I have worked with all these years.”
To celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. Frank Bures, an open house will be held on Saturday, December 15, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Winona History Center. The price of admission is either a story about Bures, or a good joke.