Retiring Dr. John Snyder: ‘I enjoyed seeing the patients’

EASTERN SHORE POST/STEFANIE JACKSON Dr. John Snyder, who recently retired from a career of practicing medicine on the Eastern Shore, sits with his wife, Ann, and their dog, Nell.


Dr. John Snyder is one of the last of a generation of Eastern Shore physicians who started in the profession making house calls and keeping all-paper records.

After decades of serving the community as a general practitioner, the doctor who grew up on a farm is retreating to a farm near Franktown to retire.

Snyder was raised in Marionville, about two miles from Nassawadox. He loved being outdoors and enjoyed fishing and hunting, although he did not believe for long that he would become a farmer like his father. A different career called him.

Dr. John Rogers Mapp was a radiologist at the Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital, and his wife, Sarah Mapp, was a substitute teacher at Snyder’s school, Birdsnest Elementary.

She must have had a sixth sense about Snyder’s future, because when he told her he was going to be a farmer like his dad, she replied, “No, you’re going to be a doctor.”

His primary care provider was Dr. Wayne Mears, of Belle Haven, “one of those who did it all,” Snyder said.

Watching his doctor apply extensive medical knowledge and skills as he cared for patients, “you felt like you were in the presence of something special,” Snyder said.

He was inspired — and the job appealed to him because there was no “paper pushing” and doctors can immediately see the impact of their work.

Moreover, there was “a big need on the Shore” for doctors, Snyder said.

That became even more apparent after he graduated from medical school, completed his internship and residency, and returned to the Eastern Shore in 1982 to join the practice of Dr. Ernest Gibb and Dr. Edmund Henderson.

The three, all Eastern Shore natives, had to be flexible and versatile, following overfilled schedules to provide all types of care due to a lack of specialists like obstetricians. The three doctors delivered babies, made house calls, held Saturday morning office hours, and worked in the hospital.

They had no computers to make life easier; all of their patients’ charts and prescriptions were on paper.

“I was just turning 30 and thought we could cure the world,” Snyder said, adding that in those days, he typically survived on a couple hours of sleep every night.

Then the dominoes began to fall. Dr. Bill Burton, of Chincoteague, cut back his practice. Dr. William Wingfield, of Keller, fell ill and died. Dr. John Francis and others moved, leaving the Shore’s remaining physicians to pick up the pieces.

“It was an absolute zoo,” Snyder said.

Some relief came a few months later when Dr. Arthur Carter came to the Eastern Shore and lightened the obstetric load. Around that time, Dr. David Scott and Dr. Brad Fears also started their work on the Shore.

Working long hours as a doctor in a low-income, rural area inevitably presented some challenges to the husband and father, but Bleak House, a 19th century, two-story, white home in Franktown that Snyder purchased in 1984, was a “good place to raise three kids,” he said.

His wife, Ann Snyder, stayed home and took care of the house and kids while he was working.

It also helped that “I enjoyed seeing the patients and enjoyed what I was doing,” Snyder said.

None of his children followed in his footsteps after seeing how hard he worked for a “relatively poor income.”

But when Riverside Medical Group took over the hospital around 2009, it was a “huge help to all of us,” Snyder said.

The doctors who joined the medical group received good reimbursements and benefits, he said.

Earning a living as a doctor is even more difficult now, which makes it tough for the Eastern Shore to recruit and retain qualified physicians. Snyder graduated from college essentially debt-free, but paying for medical school today is basically taking out a mortgage, and graduating with $200,000 in debt is not uncommon, he said.

He also believes rural areas are tough sells for young doctors who grew up in cities and suburbs and “can’t imagine living like this,” away from neighbors and shopping centers.

Snyder planned to retire around age 70, and that’s just what he did. He left his practice in December 2022, and he and his wife decided to downsize and sold Bleak House.

They now live on farm land just a few miles from their old home. The Snyders own 120 acres, much of which is rented out to farmers who grow corn, soybeans, “a little bit of everything,” Snyder said.

In his retirement, he looks forward to activities like fishing, boating, reading for pleasure, and taking long walks with the dog.

It was “always my dream to have farm land,” Snyder said, and now he has it on his native Eastern Shore.

He said, “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

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