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The tailwater of the Shoshone River in Powell, Wyoming, is warm
enough for fishing in winter months, and it's where you can find
Michael Tracy, MD, FACP, about once a week from October to March.
Fly fishing is his escape, a respite from his daily
responsibilities, and he craves his regular outings. He doesn't
take his cell phone onto the boat on purpose, because as a small
town internist and pediatrician, it rings a lot. Once back in
civilization however, he lives for the ringing-for him, the sound
of a job he loves, one to which he gives much of himself and to
which he gets much in return.
Small Town Hero
Dr. Tracy had always been intrigued by medicine, but his interest
soon became a concrete plan after taking a job as an EMT near a
coal mine just outside of Redstone, CO, where he was studying for
his undergrad degree at the University of Colorado. He recalls with
clarity the feeling he had on his very first run, when the crew was
called to rescue an injured miner. Getting the miner out of the
mine itself took about an hour, followed by a thirty-five minute
drive to get off of the mountain, followed by another 45 minutes
spent driving to the hospital. It made for a tense situation for
the inexperienced Dr. Tracy. "The circumstances demanded that the
process be a combination of common sense, improvisation, and
constant reassessment," he says. After it was over, he was hooked.
"The challenge and satisfaction of providing medical care became
clear to me that summer," he recalls.
Dr. Tracy stayed on at the University of Colorado for medical
school. He decided on a combined medicine-pediatrics residency, and
knew that he wanted to go into rural medicine. "I love rural
medicine because it's a very longitudinal experience," he says.
"You get to know people and on a community level, which helps you
be a better physician. It also keeps you out of trouble!" he jokes.
His first job at the National Health Service corps in Missouri
taught him the significance of being a physician in a small
community. He says practicing medicine in such a capacity carries
with it an added degree of intimacy. "I enjoyed the experience, and
saw first-hand how it's hard on a small town when doctors come and
go," he says. "When people meet a doctor, there's a relationship
that begins, and severing that is difficult."
Leaving his patients was something Dr. Tracy never wanted to
have to do again, and he has been able to achieve that, having
moved to Wyoming eight years ago to join a group practice. He works
both as an internist and a pediatrician and thrives in the
atmosphere. "I take care of multiple generations of families," he
explains, "kids, their parents, grandparents, great
grandparents… in a small town and I love it." He cites one
family in particular, with whom he shared an unforgettable moment
watching as twins were delivered by c-section. "The mother and the
grandmother are both patients of mine," he explains, "and the
grandmother was there for the delivery. There were no complications
with the delivery, and it was just such a joyous time bonding with
three generations of this family. Being an internist has given me
experiences like these."
He loves treating children. "I have three kids of my own and
taking care of them from birth is just a pretty incredible thing,"
he says. The joys of his job don't end there. "There is a great
camaraderie with my colleagues here and also an opportunity to know
them outside of work because of the community," he says. "The
lifestyle that my job affords me is unbelievably great."
A rural enthusiast he may be, but Dr. Tracy is very much in tune
with what is going on in his profession and health care in general.
He attends ACP meetings and often participates in Chapter
activities; he is a regular at Leadership Day-ACP's annual advocacy
day on Capitol Hill; he serves on a pediatrics committee associated
with ACP and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP); and he has
been actively involved in advocacy issues at the state level for
His involvement in advocacy began when he realized how much
patient care was affected by outside events. "Once I started
practicing, I soon realized that things happening on a state level
and even a national level were impacting what I did every day as a
physician," he says. Yet he was hesitant to jump in, lacking any
kind of experience with politics, which he assumed was necessary to
participate in advocacy-related activity. Shortly after moving to
Wyoming, however, he received an email from the AAP asking him to
participate in a grassroots advocacy program. He agreed, and after
sitting with his senator for over half an hour, he realized that
not only was the senator interested in what he was saying, he was
particularly focused on Dr. Tracy's perspective as a physician and
internist. "This is something that people can and should do," he
says. "People think they can't get into it if they don't have any
experience, but I didn't have any experience either, and I've found
it to be very rewarding."
He finds equal value in ACP's Leadership Day, when he and other
participating members have the opportunity to meet with lawmakers
and their staffs to discuss important issues. He encourages other
members to participate. "It demonstrates to people how to apply
appropriate pressure and it's an effective way to build ongoing
relationships with legislators," he says. "They really do want to
hear from us, and year-round. It's helpful to them." He talks
animatedly about reform, and listening to him, it's hard to believe
he ever doubted his ability as an effective contributor. Through
active involvement, Dr. Tracy has found himself just as dedicated
to the betterment of his profession as he is to his patients and
his fly fishing, and while the fish may feel otherwise, his
patients and colleagues are likely very glad to have someone like
Dr. Tracy in their lives.
Check out previous
articles as physicians share what motivated them to become
physicians as well as why they chose their particular type of
March 2010 Issue of IMpact
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