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SCORE Awards: Healthy Life Clinic

Stocks in this article: DD

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. ( MainStreet) -- When Dr. Gary Bickford retired from DuPont (DD) at 56, he wasn't envisioning a life on the golf course or taking vacations.

Already armed with a Ph.D. in health systems, Bickford decided to go back to school at the University of Tennessee to become a nurse practitioner so he could fulfill his dream of establishing family medical clinics for the poor and underprivileged.

Dr. Gary Bickford won SCORE's 2011 award for Outstanding Small Business Launched by an Individual Age 50-Plus for launching a chain of Healthy Life Clinics.

After demanding schooling and preparation (which included a stint in a hospital emergency room), Bickford opened the first of five Healthy Life Clinics in October 2009.

Healthy Life Clinics doctors prescribe medicine, perform minor procedures and treat common health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The company takes all forms of insurance, but deals mainly with Medicaid and Medicare.

As noble as it is to offer medical services to the poor, it hasn't been easy for Bickford, now 66. In a conversation with TheStreet he speaks of fatigue; the demand for his service is so great Bickford sees upward of 40 patients a day. Last Monday, he hit a record 59 patients in one day, he says.

Bickford also had a tough time finding qualified and responsible providers to run the other clinics he's opened. As a result, he's had to close two of the clinics due to poor management.

Still, Bickford's passion for his mission persists, and last week he won SCORE's 2011 award for Outstanding Small Business Launched by an Individual Age 50-Plus.

Bickford offered his perspective to TheStreet last week.

What does this award mean to you?

Bickford: This award means that the work I am attempting to do in serving the medically underserved is being recognized as an important contribution to our society. I am very confident that there were many other excellent small businesses that were nominated, and I suspect that my business was chosen more because of the efforts we are making to help others. I plan to franchise my clinics, and winning this important award will give me great credibility as I go forward in my medical mission. Franchising will help me expand greatly in my work and help other dedicated providers be successful.

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