My Kind of Medicine: Real Lives of Practicing Internists: Michael D. Tracy, MD, FACP
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 Wyoming.
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 practice.