Questions & Answers with community faces
For just over a year now, 32-year-old Dr. Kathryn “Katie” Krezoski-Evans and 31-year-old Dr. Cyrus Ghaemi have been treating everyone from newborns to centenarians, everything from snotty noses to heart conditions, at Munson Healthcare’s Empire Family Clinic. In September 2017, the pair joined Dr. Nicole Fliss, who started at the Empire office in December 2013; she was handling a patient load of more than 1,000 prior to the arrival of the two new doctors and was unable to take new patients.
Having three doctors has allowed the clinic to begin accepting new patients again and to expand its hours to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on most weekdays, until 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. For the first year or so, Krezoski-Evans and Ghaemi each worked three days a week in the Empire clinic, on alternating schedules, and they spent the remainder of the week at the Urgent Care in Traverse City. But now, they have both transitioned over to Empire full-time.
Krezoski-Evans (known to her patients as “Dr. K”) was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was educated at Kalamazoo College for undergrad (a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health Sciences with a minor in French in 2008) and Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine; she completed her third and fourth years of medical school at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City and graduated in 2017 from their three-year Family Medicine Residency program.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ghaemi is from southeast Michigan originally and was educated at the University of Michigan for undergrad (bio-psychology and environmental studies in 2009) and MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine; he did rotations at the St. John Hospital system in southeast Michigan, as well as the Family Medicine Residency through Munson, also graduating in 2017, alongside Krezoski-Evans.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful local characters, The Betsie Current caught up with both doctors as they were between patients.
The Betsie Current: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and how you landed in Northern Michigan? What drew you to this area?
Dr. Katie Krezoski-Evans: I am originally from Milwaukee. My parents were actually Michiganders from the Kalamazoo area. I moved to Michigan when I attended Kalamazoo College from 2004 to 2008—both of my parents had attended Kalamazoo before me, and it was actually the only place that I applied for undergrad, because I knew that I wanted to go there. It was my then-boyfriend/now-husband Luke Evans [originally of Honor] who ultimately drew me to Northern Michigan. We had met in Kalamazoo; a mutual friend had introduced us, and we lived in Kalamazoo from 2008 to 2010 while Luke was finishing his degree at Western [Michigan University]. When I got into medical school, I moved to East Lansing, but he had gotten a full-time job in Petoskey, so we were commuting to be together on the weekends for four years—two of those were me in East Lansing and two were me in Traverse City. Traverse City was the closest location [to Luke, in Petoskey] where I could complete my medical school rotations and, later, residency. That said, we chose to remain in the area after I fell in love with the beauty of the region and this community. For my third and fourth years at medical school, I competed to come to Traverse City to work at Munson for my base hospital; Munson has a very strong Family Medicine residency, so I remained in Traverse City for the three-year program. Luke and I got married in 2015, during my residency, and we bought a house together in Traverse City. He works for the Great Lakes Commons, a nonprofit group whose mission is to care for the health of the Great Lakes. Luke’s family still lives in the area; his mom grew up in Empire, and his dad grew up in Benzie County. They are both small-business owners: Monica has an in-home daycare, and Chad is a residential builder. Luke and I have a dream to get some land in southern Leelanau or northern Benzie and create a subsistence-type farm.
Dr. Cyrus Ghaemi: I moved to Northern Michigan for residency in 2014. It’s a place that I’ve always wanted to live since growing up downstate, and I was always drawn to this area for the nature and water. When I was a child, my parents would bring us up here regularly, and I knew I wanted to be somewhere like this when I was able to decide where I lived. After doing my Family Medicine residency up here in Traverse City, I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with the right people to help create this job position [at Empire Family Clinic] that keeps me here, which I am really excited about. My wife, Christina Barkel, works in agriculture and small farms, and this was an area where she really wanted to be, as well. The sense of community is strong here, and that was appealing, too.
Current: What has you most excited about your medical practice in Empire?
Krezoski-Evans: I have always been interested in being the “small town doc” and being connected to the community that I live in. Empire is a great community that has a long history. On top of that, it is a beautiful place to live and be. When Luke and I decided where we wanted to put down roots, it was really a no-brainer to stay in this area. From the Great Lakes to the outdoors, from the friends of Luke’s childhood and to those we have made over the past six years while I have been training with Munson—this is home.
Current: About how many patients do you see per week? What are you treating? Are you taking new patients?
Krezoski-Evans: We are currently accepting new patients. As a family physician, I see all ages, including newborns and patients with complex, chronic medical problems. I perform osteopathic manipulative medicine routinely in the office. We also do some medical procedures, including skin lesion removals, cryotherapy, and gynecological care—PAP smears, IUD placements and managemet, endometrial biopsies, etc. We are hoping to expand our practice to include prenatal care up to the late second trimester, so as to offer Leelanau and Benzie residents care that is closer to home; we would work in conjunction with Munson Family Practice and the two OB/GYN groups in Traverse City for coordination of care and deliveries. We currently see approximately 30 to 50 patients per week, but this will be increasing as our practice grows and we both move to a full-time position in Empire.
Ghaemi: It varies somewhat, but I have been ranging from 12 to 18 patients a day, on average, sometimes more. We are accepting new patients currently. We do preventative care and well visits for all ages, including newborns and young children, women’s health, travel health consults, asthma, chronic lung disease, and chronic disease management, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. We also do minor surgery, like skin biopsies and removal of suspicious moles and lesions. We hope to provide prenatal care in the near future, as well.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change since you started at the Empire Family Clinic? And how do you hope it will continue to grow and change?
Ghaemi: We have definitely gotten busier and have been seeing more people from out of town, returning from college, and kids on summer vacation, which has been exciting. We’ve also been identifying services that would be helpful for our patients to have access to, and we’ve been working to get those up and running in our clinic. We hope to continue to identify the needs of our patients, both as individuals and in the community at large, so that we can work to help meet those needs as best as we can. We’d like to do more in the way of community outreach and integration, too, which will come more as we continue to settle in.
Current: With the busy life of a doctor, what other things are you involved with/able to squeeze in?
Krezoski-Evans: I like to go to local music performances. I used to be involved in choir and play the piano and the viola, but school took priority for so many years that, currently, I prefer to live vicariously through other talented local musicians! But I am in the process of getting a piano, and I plan to have my viola dusted off and serviced in the near future, so don’t worry on my behalf. I also enjoy hiking, camping, and getting out in to nature—hence why I am excited to be able to work in Empire. Luke and I took several backpacking trips this past summer. I also participate in a local book club, and Luke and I both love to cook, and I have a special interest in baking. My favorite thing to do, however, is gathering with friends. Several weeknights are usually devoted to sharing dinner with various friends, and I am known to spend a lot of my free time planning parties and get-togethers. We could live anywhere, but what keeps me happy and keeps me here is the awesome sense of community that we have here.
Ghaemi: I really like to work in the garden. I also enjoy hiking, biking, cooking, and homebrewing, as well as checking out live music in the area—there are lots of small venues that create an intimate feel, which is perfect for checking out a new band or revisiting an old favorite.
Current: What are some ways that you and your business give back to the community?
Krezoski-Evans: Our clinic is one of very few located in Leelanau County, which is convenient for the community, because we provide a local option for a primary care provider. Munson also opened up a pharmacy, [blood] lab draw location, and physical therapy office next door, so patients don’t need to travel as far to have access to much-needed services. We are hoping to participate in local schools, in providing age-appropriate public service information regarding skin cancer, in managing anxiety and depression, healthy eating tips, and other topics that may be useful. We are also meeting with local providers of much-needed social services to help coordinate referrals and offer resources to patients.
Ghaemi: Our clinic, as well as Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital, are always looking for ways to give back to the community, whether it’s providing additional resources at the hospital or doing more outreach personally, as the physicians at the Empire Family Clinic. We’ve met with a women’s club in the community to talk about topics that they were interested in, and we’ve been reaching out to local schools to see if we can work together to improve student health. We’re still new here, though, and are always looking for more ways to give back to the community over time!
Current: Anything in particular that you would like to share about your medical practice or philosophy?
Krezoski-Evans: I went into osteopathic medicine because I believe there is more to healing than medication. I enjoy doing osteopathic manipulation and spending time with my patients, despite the pressure that we have from the societal powers to make our appointments shorter and click more computer buttons. I am also interested in integrative medicine, however, I admit this is an area that is not well-covered in mainstream medicine, so I plan to take more classes in this area as I progress through the practice of medicine. I am very interested in seeing all ages of patients—from newborns to their grandparents, and I have a special interest in women’s health.
Ghaemi: I try to be pretty holistic in my approach; I want to try to figure out the root of what’s going wrong. Sometimes that means taking more time and having a few more visits to see how things are changing over time. I want to help people to feel motivated to make their own positive changes in their lives, but sometimes conventional interventions are necessary, and I want to be honest with people about that. I want to have long-lasting relationships with my patients, so they are comfortable opening up to me and letting me help along their journeys. Our clinic is really excited to be able to help with medical care for infants, children, and teenagers, too. We try to keep it fun there, so that it’s not intimidating, and it’s so critical to get kids and young adults motivated to be proactive in their health. I’ve also always been motivated by the influence of diet and lifestyle on health and well-being—that’s my mom’s influence. I’ve developed a love for food and cooking over the years, and I’ve seen how much food insecurity, an overabundance of unhealthy-but-cheap food options, and an intimidation of food and cooking has contributed heavily to chronic diseases and a loss of health. My wife, Christina, has been farming in Leelanau County for the past four years and has done a lot of education and outreach regarding local farming and youth education about food and cooking, and we’ve always talked about tying our skills together in some way. Last year, I took part in the Culinary Medicine Conference that was held by Munson and the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, and it was a great opportunity for me to talk with health professionals in our community about the state of food access and food insecurity in our region and for all of us to explore the intersections of that with health and illness. It also emphasized the importance of practical cooking skills in creating confidence in people to take control over their lives, so that they can eat better and enjoy it, instead of feeling limited in their choices.
Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people to this area?
Krezoski-Evans: The average young professional is looking for a balance of work and home life. I think businesses that would like to hire young professionals should be aware that employment is changing; developing more work-from-home options or ways to increase efficiency while at work can be more attractive to new hires. Similarly, local rental options and childcare are expensive; the average income does not provide enough to support a new family. Offering childcare benefits or increasing the hourly wage is a way to attract and keep great employees. There is also a push toward environmental stewardship and community-building. Having a reliable and efficient public transit option for Northern Michigan would allow more commuting and reduce the burden of traffic and environmental impact.
Ghaemi: Lots of things. Many young people are burdened with student-loan debt, which is significant. Supporting the development of well-paying jobs in a diversity of fields would be extremely helpful, or developing programs to help pay back or forgive student debt. The concept of accepting lower pay to live in a beautiful area doesn’t work anymore [“view of the bay, half the pay”]; the costs are real, people still have to cover their basic needs, and with limited options for well-paying work, talented young folks who otherwise could return here and add value to our communities will have to look elsewhere. There are also significant infrastructure gaps; many people could work from home, provided that they have access to reliable high-speed internet, which is lacking in many areas. Focusing on investing in our communities—not just to keep them the way they have been, but to meet the real needs of young people in the future—will help to draw those people back to help re-invest in our local communities.
Current: What else does Northern Michigan need? What are your hopes for this area for the future?
Krezoski-Evans: More robust and reliable public transportation and increased number of locals who are committing to take public transportation. Without the funding, it is hard for public transportation to build the infrastructure, and I realized it is impossible to take public transit if it is unreliable and untimely. We could also use more local psychiatrists and psychologists; mental health is a big problem everywhere, but our region is particularly under-served.
Ghaemi: In general: better infrastructure to meet the needs of a young, developing workforce and an increased diversity of job opportunities to support the lives of those who want to be a part of our communities. Healthcare-wise: This is universal, but better access to affordable healthcare options that provide real benefits to our patients. I hope we, as a community, decide to genuinely invest in our potential as communities and to leverage the resources that we have to develop a strong infrastructure to meet the needs of young people in the future, to support those who want to come back and contribute to our area.
Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of working and living in Northern Michigan? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Ghaemi: It has been really nice getting to know my community; there are so many personal connections and stories, the sense of community identity is strong and, in many ways, that is refreshing. People really care about their community and each other and want to do things to keep them strong. There are some real challenges though, which often relate to resource accessibility and infrastructure needs, which may be harder to access in rural, less densely populated areas. However, some challenges are universal to this area and other parts of the state and country, such as financial tightness and lack of affordable health care. The best part of my job, though, is working together with my patients, my colleagues, and with partners in the community to find solutions for people and seeing them turn their lives around and being happier and healthier, meeting their goals for themselves, and being able to look me in the eye and say, “I feel great.”
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots? What’s your ideal autumn day look like? How would you spend it?
Krezoski-Evans: Sitting outside with a blanket in my lap and something warm in my coffee mug, while the sunlight filters through the trees and the wind blows the scent of dried leaves my way! Then, I would put on some flannel and head to the local orchard to pick some apples and drink some cider. Perhaps Luke and Cyrus would get some hard cider cooking, while I make an apple pie for dessert, while Cyrus’s wife, Christina, brings home some vegetables from Birch Point Farm for dinner.
Ghaemi: Any combination of the following—sleeping in, watching the sunrise, taking a hike in the woods with Christina and our dog, Otto, or biking along our trials, standing by the water or jumping in, if it’s still warm enough. Also making food with friends and hanging around the bonfire. If a friend has fired up the sauna, that’s a perfect finale! I love hiking whatever trails I can find when the time allows, and swimming in the big lake or exploring the rivers, though I don’t have a kayak yet. I love foraging for wild edible foods, but I’m not that great at it, yet. Stormcloud [Brewing Company in Frankfort] is a favorite spot, and some dark chocolate from Grocer’s Daughter [in Empire] is always a treat.
Want to schedule an appointment with Dr. Katie Krezoski-Evans or Dr. Cyrus Ghaemi at the Empire Family Clinic, located at 997 W. Ottawa Avenue in Empire? Call 231-835-2088.
A portion of this article came from a previously published article in the Glen Arbor Sun, a semi-sister publication to The Betsie Current.