I may have left a fast-paced career for a slower-paced town, but my life has grown more global and I have a larger impact on my community here in Jackson than I ever did in a big city.
Explore This IssueJanuary 2021
SR: How has working as a solo practitioner in Jackson Hole changed the way you practice medicine?
MT: Since working in Jackson I’ve broadened the scope of my practice. I view my job here as a way to serve this community, and this has pushed me to become a better general doctor than I was before. For instance, I’ve learned that it’s often better for patients to have procedures done here in Jackson instead of traveling to other, larger medical centers in Utah or Washington state for their care. For example, last year I had a young female patient who contracted meningitis with a coalescent mastoid during a huge snowstorm. We couldn’t fly her out of Wyoming, and I had already placed a tympanostomy tube in her ear, but she was gradually getting sicker. So, I performed a mastoidectomy with a facial recess approach, and she got better. She woke up with no pain.
Contrast that story with when I first came out here. Back then, I was scared doing straightforward tonsillectomies because I couldn’t turn around and ask for help. There was nobody here but me—I became a more general doctor out of necessity.
SR: Some of your contemporaries aren’t shy about saying, “The medical system is broken.” Practicing in a slower-paced world, do you have those same existential concerns as your contemporaries about the practice of medicine?
MT: There are a lot of discouraged doctors who are in my age group, I think. I have colleagues, probably even here in Jackson Hole, who say that practicing medicine and being a doctor isn’t what they expected it would be. But when my son asks me whether I would choose this path again, my answer is, “Definitely.” I love what I do. It’s much more manageable than when I was seeing 40 or 50 patients in a day.
Before the coronavirus hit us, I would see 20 to 30 patients on a busy clinic day, but there could also be far slower days. And I take calls here, and my colleagues know they can rely on me to help them when I’m available, so I answer my own phone all the time. If the emergency department at the hospital here in Jackson calls me, they know I’ll pick up the phone. My practice is broader and richer here.
SR: As the world has been changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how has your world changed with it?
MT: If anything, I think it’s brought our community in Jackson closer together. People are understandably leery of entering healthcare institutions right now, but I’m finding a lot more graciousness among patients than I had experienced before. Every day I have patients thanking me for being available for them, even in the middle of the pandemic.
SR: Given your contrasting experiences, first as an otolaryngologist in Cleveland and now as an otolaryngologist in Jackson Hole, what counsel do you offer your medical students as they consider their career paths?
MT: I try to remind them that whenever they feel discouraged, they need to rediscover the passion that first drove them to medicine. I may have left a fast-paced career for a slower-paced town, but my life has grown more global and I have a larger impact on my community here in Jackson than I ever did in a big city. And making that transition felt hard at the time, but making the move helped me rekindle my passion for practicing medicine that will sustain me for the rest of my career.