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Family Medicine (2005)VIEW PROFILE
Katheryn Norris, D.O. (FM ’05), is a physician at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic at Grandview Medical-Dental Clinic. She’s also the residency director of the Sollus Northwest Family Medicine Residency Program. Dr. Norris has been residency program director since 2012 and was elected as the 2020 Washington Academy of Family Physicians Family Medicine Educator of the Year. She says she enjoys watching trainees evolve from novice to accomplished on their journey to become physicians who go out to help and serve others.
“It’s very rewarding to take care of families, treat people through the years and walk through life with them. I really enjoy seeing people and their kids grow up and go off to college. And later, it’s incredibly rewarding being able to walk with someone at the end of their life or as they enter hospice and help support their family. I think the honor of having people let you into their lives like that is very moving.”
I always wanted to help people. I enjoyed science and teaching others. My mom is a nurse, and my dad was in the U.S. Navy.
My father was in the Navy. I was born on the East Coast and lived in Hawaii and then Western Washington. Then we moved back to the East Coast and, again, back to the Pacific Northwest, where I completed high school and college.
I wanted to experience a different part of the United States, so I looked at medical schools in the Midwest and ended up choosing the first osteopathic medical school, Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri. The timing was serendipitous because my husband was getting his master’s degree at Truman State University, which is also in Kirksville. We attended graduate school in the same town at the same time.
When it came time to apply to a residency program, I looked at places that would suit my style and the training I wanted, either an ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) accredited or AOA (American Osteopathic Association) accredited residency. I ended up at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where I learned a ton. I really appreciated the emphasis on teaching. Being given an hour or hour-and-a-half with each patient was a luxury, allowing me to obtain a lot of information about their history. I also appreciated Mayo’s emphasis on education and interweaving patient care with clinical case work. Because education was clearly a priority, patients appreciated the extra time we took to understand their cases. It was a really supportive environment.
I liked the idea of taking care of a person throughout their lifetime. I was initially attracted to pediatrics because I like kids, but I wanted to keep taking care of them after they turned 18. I chose family medicine over pediatrics so I could establish continuity of care with a whole family and generation of families.
The faculty was wonderful. They just wanted to teach and help us care for patients. I’m so appreciative of those who are willing to teach and stay late with trainees in the clinic and hospital to facilitate learning. As a residency program director, I understand why my program director seemed stressed at times. Balancing being a clinician, educator, program administrator and parent is a lot!
Thoroughness. When patients come to Mayo Clinic, they expect that their records have been reviewed and to get an opinion from a Mayo Clinic physician. To determine the next step, the physician needs to know what happened before. Having trained at Mayo Clinic, I learned that you need to be an expert in your patient so you can decide what the next step is or ask informed questions of another consulting physician.
I work at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which is a community health center that’s part of a clinic system in Washington and Oregon. I’m the residency program director for the Sollus Northwest Family Medicine Residency and director of medical education. I’ve been in those roles since 2012.
Seventy percent of my time is administrative – teaching and supervising residents. I see patients about four hours a week. Seventy percent of our patients are Spanish-speaking and live in a rural area. In addition to health care, we offer access to dental, pharmacy, behavioral health, dietitians and medication assistance in our facility. We try to take care of the whole person. Patients let you into their lives and share intimate details with you. Everyone is in need in a different way.
We’re a National Health Service loan repayment site, so often physicians come here for a few years and leave. That has left some patients feeling that clinicians don’t want to work here. It’s humbling to see the sense of family people in this area have.
There are three things that I believe make someone a good mentor. The first is being a good, professional physician and modeling it to others. It’s not just knowing the nuts and bolts of medicine but also relating to staff and connecting with patients. Secondly, sharing both your successes and failures; transparency is very important. Lastly, great mentors are available and present. It’s about helping a mentee when they are struggling, knowing the right words to say and pointing them in the right direction. That said, you can’t project your goals onto them. They have to want the goals for themselves.
It’s very rewarding to take care of families, treat people through the years and walk through life with them. I really enjoy seeing people and their kids grow up and go off to college. And later, it’s incredibly rewarding being able to walk with someone at the end of their life or as they enter hospice and help support their family. I think the honor of having people let you into their lives like that is very moving.
Study hard. Do well on your license exams. Remember why you went into medicine. But most importantly, show up and be interested. If you really want to shine, go the extra mile. Get there an hour early. Stay an hour late. It’s all about helping people and taking care of patients. It isn’t about you but what you do to help others.
I’m most proud of teaching. I like seeing trainees gain confidence and competence and go from novice to accomplished. It’s fun to see third-year residents and remember what they were like on day one. Then they graduate and go out to help and serve others.
Juggling my career and my family. I had a student ask me once, “How do you do it? How do you balance your career and family?” Honestly, I didn’t think that was unique because it is just where I am in life; it is my reality. My advice to that student was to have a very supportive partner. I would have never made it without my husband’s support. Remember, you can have it all but it won’t all be at the same time and it won’t all be in the same proportion. There are going to be sacrifices but, remember, they are temporary; that is what gets me through.
In my personal life, I’m proud that my kids are proud of me. They see why I do what I do – to help patients and teach others. I want my time away from them to be worthwhile.
I try to balance being a working wife and mother with being a physician. My daughters are 16 and 12. I recently realized I needed a hobby, so I took up cross-stitching. I’d wanted to try it for a long time. At the recommendation of my residents, my family watched “The Mandalorian” series over winter break, so I’m cross-stitching Grogu. My residents approve of my choice.
I’m an only child. I was the school spelling bee champion from grades 5 to 8. I’m not athletic but was on the eighth-grade basketball team and only ever took one shot in any game – and made it, giving me a 100% average. I also sewed my purple prom dress, which I still have.
See past New Chapter stories here.