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Duluth clinic gives back to neighborhood with cleanup event

First-year resident Nick Taurinskas cleans up garbage in the alleys around the Duluth Family Medicine Clin on Thursday morning. (Bob King /

Inside the Duluth Family Medicine Physicians facility at the corner of Third Street and Eighth Avenue East, there are remnants of the site’s previous existence as an apartment building. There are fireplaces in some of the exam rooms, and other residential remnants scattered throughout the building. In the 40 years the clinic has operated here, the staff has come to regard its place in the community as an equally charming fit.

“We’re very proud of it,” said Paige Stager, a registered nurse with the facility.

As proof, the staff staged a block cleanup Thursday, buzzing about like worker bees around a hive. They picked up cigarette butts, trimmed hedges and scrubbed adjacent empty lots of any detritus. The volunteer effort served as a nice coming out party for the clinic’s eight new physicians in residence. The cleanup came as they were finishing up two weeks of orientation preceding a final, three-year journey on their way to becoming fully licensed physicians.

“To see it all,” said resident physician Megan San Giacomo out of the University of Minnesota. “That’s why I’m in family practice medicine.”

The cradle-to-the-grave variety of care provided by the clinic also provides the physicians a trial-by-fire education, following the previous eight years of undergraduate college and medical school. The program offered by the clinic is grounded with a staff of seven doctors, each with long-time experience in teaching and practicing medicine.

In overseeing the eight newcomers for the next 36 months, they are welcoming in a generation that is versed in hospital rooms equipped with computers and other high-tech innovations. Each resident physician will carry a smart phone. Even still, the level of documentation a young physician faces in this era of data privacy and advanced billing practices surprises even a data-conscious newcomer.

“This program is kind of strict with numbers, making sure everything is logged in if it’s done in practice,” said Tsering Lhamo of Portland, Ore. Immersion with her peers causes a “we’re-in-this-together” approach, said Lhamo.

New resident Robert Payne of the University of Minnesota Duluth, by way of Buffalo, Minn., was eager to pull the hedge clippers he remembered to bring from his back pocket and start cutting back the vegetation from the sidewalk.

It was important to clear a path for neighborhood residents, he said, but equally important for him to get to work, it seemed.

“It’s nice to get out because we’ve been locked inside so often already,” he said, clad in mid-thigh jean shorts and boots that suggested he was ready for action.

And there will be plenty of time for that.

Essentia Health, St. Luke’s Health Care System and the University of Minnesota work in cooperation to operate the residency program. They figure to keep the young, soon-to-be doctors busy, running them between all their local facilities in addition to their home-base clinic.

“This is a well-known program,” San Giacomo said. “It’s known for training rural, broadly practiced physicians.”

All eight will receive a heavy dose of the core basics – pediatric, internal and obstetric medicines – before branching out into elective specialties later on in year three. As they grow, they’ll receive more autonomy and more clinic time vs. hospital care. Additionally, the resident physicians will spend time at CHUM Center, Duluth Detox and Life House.

“We serve the hillside,” said Bonnie Keeling, a clinic social worker who serves as the resident physicians’ liaison into the community. “We get a lot of patients from those areas. They’re the hillside’s safety nets.”

The resident physicians already seemed eager to interact with the people and neighborhood around them. In addition to picking up her surroundings, San Giacomo was surveying them.

“Always looking for new patients,” she said.