After delivering her first baby, Christie Kirkpatrick put her hands on her knees as if she had just run a marathon.
The 25-year-old medical student in Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine had just assisted with a cesarian-section surgery at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver.
“I’m seeing the miracle that is life for the first time, and in C-section, it’s not a traditional delivery,” Kirkpatrick said of the Aug. 27 delivery. “You just sort of see this little life pulled out from an abdomen. So I’m seeing this miracle of life for the first time. Your jaw kind of drops.”
To make matters more intense and sentimental, Kirkpatrick was assisting Dr. Douglas Whalen in the surgery, the same doctor who delivered her about a quarter of a century ago at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, and the same doctor who delivered her brother, Scott, about three years earlier.
“I’m standing across from the man who brought me into this world, and I have this sort of overwhelming sense of gratitude just to be a medical professional,” Kirkpatrick said. “The things that we do in medicine, it’s a privilege to share these moments with patients. And the fact that I’m getting to do that in my home community with the physicians that I grew up around, it was overwhelming. I had to take a moment after the surgery.”
Kirkpatrick spent her first two years in medical school in Spokane for the lecture and book-learning portion of schooling. She’s spending her third and fourth years training in the greater Vancouver area until graduation in May 2021. That means a return home for the Mark Morris High School graduate and Longview native.
Kirkpatrick’s career aspirations are tied to her roots. Her father, Dr. Rich Kirkpatrick, operates Kirkpatrick Family Care in Longview; his father, Dr. Neil Kirkpatrick, opened the independent primary care clinic in 1949.
Kirkpatrick’s brother, Scott, is a second-year internal medicine resident at University of Colorado Denver. Kirkpatrick is now close to the clinic where she rolled around on her dad’s physician stool as a 5-year-old, or close to St. John Medical Center where she made rounds with her dad, or close to the home and dinner table where she discussed labs with her dad as a teenager.
“It’s honestly a miracle,” she said. “If you had asked me when I was applying to medical school if I would ever think I would have been able to train 45 minutes from my parent’s house, 45 minutes from the place I grew up and seeing my parents on the weekend and training with doctors I know personally and am friends and family with, I would have never thought it was possible. We have this automatic connection and this automatic bond being from the same place.”
Kirkpatrick is still deciding what type of medicine she’d like to practice. Right now, she trains in a variety of areas, but she does have an inkling that she might wind up in internal medicine and primary care. Kirkpatrick and her brother have had preliminary discussions about joining the family clinic once they’re done with school and residencies, but she did admit running an independent clinic in 2019 is a hard task, when hospitals and corporations dominate health care.
Even if that doesn’t work out, Kirkpatrick knows she wants to practice somewhere in Southwest Washington, close to home, close to family.
“I want to come back here. This is my home. These are my people,” she said. “These are the people who raised me and helped support me to get here. The least I can do is give back to them. Seeing my dad do that and my grandpa do that has shown what a big difference you can make in a small community.”