A new-generation country doctor
Family physician Christopher Wenner, M.D., is also his own nurse, receptionist, accountant, and janitor. And that’s how he likes it.
Three years ago, the 1999 Medical School alumnus got fed up with the constant hurry he faced in his job with a large practice group and decided to become a solo practitioner in Cold Spring, Minn., his hometown.
“I see it as an avenue for me to practice medicine in a fashion that I feel is most fitting with family medicine — spending time with my patients, getting to know them as individuals,” Wenner says.
In his no-frills solo practice today, seeing just two patients per day covers his costs. He normally schedules 30-minute appointments, but it’s OK if they run long. He can do home visits when it’s more convenient for his patients. And, yes, he cleans his own exam rooms between appointments.
But the flexibility and autonomy that come with being his own boss are completely worth it, Wenner says.
“It’s being able to practice how I see fit, [doing] what’s best for my patients, what’s best for my practice, what’s best for myself,” he says. “When things need to get changed, it’s a committee of one.”
Making an old model new again
Wenner, who matriculated from the Medical School, Duluth campus, had always planned to go into family practice. “I really fell into that [Duluth] model and embraced it,” he says.
But as part of a group practice, he was pumping through appointments with 30 to 40 patients per day and felt like he didn’t have enough time to adequately address everyone’s concerns. So he decided to make a radical change and go out on his own.
Wenner admits that he faced a steep learning curve while he figured out how to run a medical business in the 2000s. In the 1950s, doctors could get by with a stack of 3-by-5-inch notecards as patient records, he says, but today with mandatory electronic medical records, “it’s exceedingly complex.”
The first six months were rough. He didn’t take a salary. He’d see one person one day and no one the next. At times he wondered whether his decision to go solo was a good one.
“Going from a regular paycheck to nothing — it’s quite an abrupt realization,” he says. “But I knew that I had a good model, and I knew that I was lean.”
Back on track
Three years later, Wenner feels like he’s on stable ground. In November he moved his office from a rented space in a strip mall to a renovated bank building on Main Street that he and his wife, Jennifer, own. He sees about 10 patients per day.
And now he employs an office assistant to help him with scheduling and billing, though Wenner still does technical work like blood draws himself. He says that’s often a good thing.
“Right now I find that it’s a nice way to end the visit — with some small talk,” he says. “The more time I’m able to spend with my patient, the better the visit is.”
Wenner finds that he’s spending more time with his family, too. His office is just three blocks from his home, and he gets home for dinner with his wife and three young children almost every night.
Wenner says it’s a privilege to be back in his hometown, practicing medicine the way he thinks it should be done. Sometimes that means being able to say, “There’s no charge for today’s visit,” or blocking off an afternoon to spend time with a patient in hospice, he says.
“Those are the things that keep me energized and very happy doing what I’m doing.”
By Nicole Endres, managing editor of the Medical Bulletin.