LAGRANGE Across the country, and mirrored in the Bluegrass, we often hear about the shortage of primary care physicians. The fact is often followed by many hypotheses, one of which is that, given the current healthcare climate, medical students are choosing specialties that seem more glamorous or lucrative.
But for one group of internal medicine and pediatrics and family medicine physicians in LaGrange, a shared commitment to caring for families and a penchant for small-town living have become a formula for exponential growth.
“I love taking care of families. It’s very rewarding to take care of multiple generations of the same family,” says Katherine Jett, MD, of Baptist Health Medical Group Internal Medicine & Pediatrics. “I grew up in a small town. My family doctor now is the same person who delivered me. My goal was always to go back to a smaller community to do primary care.”
Jett, who joined Baptist Health in LaGrange in 2010, was a solo practitioner up until last year. She asked for a partner, and now, a year later, she has four: Tannika Christensen, MD, Robin Kindig, MD, Sarah Thayer, MD, and Abby Hefner, APRN. She attributes the rapid growth to the departure of other providers in the area but also to patients’ desire to have “one practice to call home” for the entire family.
The practice currently sees approximately 80–90 patients a day, with Thayer just having joined in October and still building her patient base. Robin Kindig, MD, believes their practice model is also to credit for their growth. “We are a high volume practice because we have chosen to be a traditional insurance based practice. We’re not concierge and we’re not direct pay like some of the lower volume practices,” she says.
The comradery among the physicians is evident. “Each of us gets a day off, and we share patients. We’re not territorial. So, it’s kind of nice. Our practice philosophy is we are going to take good care of patients. We’re going to take care of them when they’re sick and also when they’re well. We try to make sure we have availability same day,” says Kindig.
Drawn Together by Similar Interests
Three out of the four physicians are double-boarded in internal medicine and pediatrics. Says Jett of why she chose the specialty, “I did it because I felt like if I was going to see kids or adults I should have equal training to an internist or a pediatrician.” Jett went to medical school at the University of Louisville and completed her residency at U of L.
Like Jett, Sarah Thayer, MD, is a small town girl who grew up on a southeastern Kentucky farm. She valued her family doctor growing up, and her mother was a nurse. She decided to pursue internal medicine and pediatrics because of the blend of adults and children and the ability to keep her options open and specialize later on. Thayer attended UK for medical school and U of L for residency.
“I love it up here because it feels a little bit like where I grew up. I feel like the population of people we see here are really hard workers, farmers, and just a joy to take care of because they really appreciate us,” says Thayer.
Kindig was drawn to the in-depth understanding of her patients a double-boarded specialty could provide, and this practice has proved to be a breeding ground for like minds. “I was drawn by having other similarly trained partners. We’re all dedicated to seeing the entire family as well as adults, and I felt like we all had a similar sense of what we want in a practice,” says Kindig, who attended medical school at the University of Kentucky and completed her residency at the University of Louisville. She is also on the faculty at U of L and teaches residents in their practice.
Tannika Christensen, MD, is the only practice member trained in family medicine. “Our practices are very similar. We just have different training,” she says. Christensen is from the west coast and attended medical school at the University of Utah and residency at McKay-Dee Family Medicine Residency in Ogden, Utah. She practiced in Utah and Oregon for several years before coming to LaGrange eight years ago and joining Baptist Health a little over a year ago.
Christensen was drawn to family medicine because of the variety of ages and issues, along with “the idea of being able to take care of someone from the time they are born all the way up to the time they are old, being able to develop that patient-physician relationship.”
The practice’s fifth provider is nurse practitioner Abby Hefner, APRN. Hefner began her career as an RN at Baptist East in and then went on to get her master’s at Spalding University, becoming an APRN in 2004. Before joining the practice in February 2016, Hefner says, “I had worked in the critical care setting in a hospital but I wanted a little more autonomy, and I also wanted to work toward a little more preventive healthcare and more family-oriented.”
Hefner shares a passion for seeing generations of families and also for treating diabetes patients.
The practice attends the newborn nursery at Baptist Health LaGrange, so they see patients from hours-old to almost a-century-old. Their case load is just what you might expect, including things like: well-baby checks and physicals, acute visits for upper respiratory infections and bladder infections, and chronic disease management of diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, COPD, and more. The providers also enjoy simple procedures such as mole removals and laceration repair.
Prevention and wellness are common themes in their daily work. “I do think it is important to focus on prevention, trying to get people at a healthy weight, trying to control diabetes and high blood pressure, and those things that if we don’t control can lead to bigger issues,” says Thayer. “I like to have people work with me to try to come up with a plan together from a patient-doctor perspective that’s going to work with their lifestyle.”
When it comes to referring to specialists, the practice’s guiding principle is to manage as much as is prudent in their office but to approach each patient individually with the best interest of the patient in mind. “We have a great set of specialists right here in this community, in this building,” says Christensen. “We have a good collaborative environment.” For those patients that need the highest level of specialized care, Baptist Health Louisville is just a short trip away.