Family doc values relationships

By Nancy Kimball
http://www.dailyinterlake.com

Dr. Ron Miller named Montana physician of the year

During 36 years behind a stethoscope in the same small town, a family doctor has a pretty good chance of witnessing the parade of generations.

Dr. Ron Miller has been in the front lines for many Whitefish families — and counts that participation as a great joy.

“Relationships,� he said without missing a beat, when asked to consider the favorite part of his practice. “I’ve had patients that I delivered their children, and now I’ve delivered that child’s baby.�

His sphere of influence, however, stretches far beyond the local.

Miller received word a couple weeks ago that the Montana Academy of Family Physicians chose him as the 2008 Montana Family Physician of the Year. He will receive the award in June at the academy’s Annual Primary Care Conference at Chico Hot Springs.

Words didn’t come quite so easily in his response to that honor.

“I don’t really know what to say — I’m humbled,� Miller said on Wednesday. “I’m honored to get it.�

Miller was at the end of a full day seeing patients at Glacier Peak Medical, the Baker Avenue building where he and his colleagues in Glacier Medical Associates — one part-time and seven full-time family physicians, two internists and a family-medicine nurse practitioner — are based.

His patients may have been gone for the day, but the evening’s paperwork was just beginning for the silver-haired physician who has practiced his entire career in Whitefish.

At one point Miller did it all, serving as the go-to doctor for all of a family’s planned and unplanned medical needs. But he gave up emergency-room medicine two years ago. Four years back, he quit doing obstetrical work.

“I tried to cut back my practice, but I’m still just as busy,� he said. Miller and the other physicians rotate weekend duties to staff their urgent-care clinic, then he maintains a schedule of working four days a week with one day off.

It’s a busy pace even for a doctor who has grown accustomed to “busy.�

Miller, a native of Washington’s Tri Cities area, did his undergraduate work at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma then went through medical school at University of Washington in Seattle.

His residency and training, and finally the start to his career, came in Whitefish.

“I liked the mountains, I liked the Flathead,� he recalled. “And they needed a physician in their group.�

Enamored of the Flathead’s offerings — hiking, hunting, fishing, skiing and more — Miller sunk family roots deep in the valley’s soil and never left. He’s even looking forward to the day when he has the time again to spend on all the Flathead’s outdoor amenities.

As he and Jeanie, his wife of 41 years, were raising their three children, they made the time to get all five sets of boots on the trail and down the ski slopes. He coached and helped with their Little Dribblers, Little League and Babe Ruth schedules.

Mom and dad got involved with their children’s schools and encouraged them to realize their dreams through higher education. Church life was as much a part of the family as meal time.

The strong family life and value they put on education, Miller said, had a lot to do with all three of them becoming high achievers.

Their eldest, Jon, is a partner in Glacier Medical Associates and his wife, Tami, is raising their four children at home. Jon Miller followed his dad’s footsteps to Pacific Lutheran, then earned his medical degree through the University of Colorado, did his residency in Spokane and came home to Whitefish.

The family’s two doctors maintain a close give-and-take relationship in and out of the office.

“It’s a real treat, kind of an honor to see him want to do what his dad did,� Ron Miller said.

Daughter Lauri, two years younger than Jon, holds a Master of Divinity degree and served in young adult and youth ministries in Atlanta. Four years ago she and her husband, Tom Haugen, moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where Tom is assistant pastor for the English-speaking International Protestant Church of Zurich. They’re also raising their two children on the slopes of the Alps.

Son Bryan is three years younger than his sister. He’s an accomplished cinematographer living with his wife, Kalen, in San Diego. His credits include “Barely Enough,� the documentary on research biologist Kate Kendall’s ground-breaking Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear DNA study, and the Discovery Channel’s Emmy-nominated “Deadliest Catch,� a documentary on king-crab fishing off Alaska’s coast.

“They always said one of the things they were most grateful for was being raised in Whitefish,� Ron Miller said. Small-town values sunk deep inside the Miller children and shape the way they live their lives and raise their own families.

Jeanie Miller is a nurse by training, and for the past 28 years has volunteered full time as the teaching leader for Kalispell’s Bible Study Fellowship.

Miller himself stays active in the local Rotary and lends his baritone voice to the praise team at Christ Lutheran Church. For 15 years, he also sang with Glacier Chorale but stepped down nine years ago when he took on more responsibility with a professional advocacy effort on liability insurance.

He’s been an active member in the Montana Academy of Family Physicians since the day he started his medical practice 36 years ago.

He held all its officer positions; was a delegate to the national academy; from 1985 to 1990 represented practicing physicians on the American Board of Family Medicine, charged with certifying physicians; and was board president in his final year.

But his heart lies in educating the next generation of doctors.

He started the Montana academy’s education committee, sat on the national commission for continuing medical education and on the national medical school and residency training board.

In 1975, Miller also founded the national academy’s teaching program for the region covering Wyoming, Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Under it, first-year residents train in Bozeman, second-year residents train in Seattle, then third- and fourth-year residents work in various family practices across the region.

All family physicians in Glacier Medical Associates are part of this training faculty. Miller coordinated their program until five years ago when he handed over the reins to his son and Dr. Jay Erickson.

“One of the things when I was in medical school that propelled me into family medicine was an experience similar to this,� Miller said.

Not only does he see this residency teaching program as a chance to re-create his own good fortune, but a chance for him and his fellow physicians to continually refresh their own learning. And he treasures it as an opportunity to shape the professional career and growth of medical students.

He said his years working with the academy on continuing education and on the American Board of Family Medicine have been his most professionally satisfying.

“Teaching students,� he said, has paid the biggest dividends in his own sense of giving back to his field. It’s been huge “having an impact on their development,� he said — and, through that, a small say in the future of family medicine.

Reporter Nancy Kimball can be reached at 758-4483 or by e-mail at nkimball@dailyinterlake.com

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