It was during a medical school rotation through a children's clinic when the newest physician at Columbia Hills Family Medicine first decided she might just have a way with kids.
"I remember coming out of the room after seeing one of my first patients, and a doctor telling me, 'You were supposed to examine that child'," says pediatrician Georgia N. Opheim, M.D. "I told him I had, and he said, 'Really, then how come I didn't hear any crying?'."
More than 20 years later Dr. Opheim is able to look back on the rewarding results of her decision to devote her practice to children and look ahead to what she calls her "new beginning" in the new surroundings of The Dalles and Columbia Hills Family Medicine.
Dr. Opheim relocated to this community from Portland where, since 1986, she had practiced in a variety of group and individual settings. Positively influenced by a mostly small-town upbringing, Opheim never envisioned spending two decades in a big-city environment; time just got away from her.
Born in Bozeman, Mont., she was on the move a lot as a youngster.
"I was raised very rural," Dr. Opheim says. "I lived in Bozeman, Kalispell, Idaho, Nebraska, and then back to Bozeman. I received a lot of my education in one-room, country schoolhouses."
Before heading to the University of Montana for her undergraduate schooling, the future doctor had answered roll call at seven grade schools and four high schools. She was also growing up in a hurry.
In first grade, Dr. Opheim's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. "She battled health issues a lot when I was growing up; in my teen years I was sort of her caregiver," she says.
It was an experience that would later play a prominent role in the development of Dr. Opheim's practice philosophy.
In high school she developed an interest in cell biology, and she put it to work during, first, an internship and later a job as a medical technologist in Spokane. But she missed the human interaction, and decided medicine was the best outlet for merging her interest in science and the psychosocial issues that confront people living with health conditions.
After graduating from the University of Washington Medical School, Dr. Opheim entered the pediatric residency program at Oregon Health & Science University and set her roots in Portland. Then she learned of a unique practice opportunity in The Dalles.
"I looked long and hard to find a place that I felt would support my priorities as a physician," she says. "It's difficult to find an environment that places any value on the subjective things that I find so important, like just holding a patient's hand. Mid-Columbia Medical Center has put a legitimate name on what I have been trying to do in my practice for years."
Dr. Opheim's philosophy of empowering patient and family in the healthcare process is perfectly aligned with MCMC's Planetree concept. "My primary goal is to arm family members with the knowledge of how to approach the care and development of the child at home. I really value my ability to be a good listener and observer and to look at a child's health issues in the broader context of the family dynamics."
Dr. Opheim says a recent encounter with the mother of a former patient reinforced her belief in the benefits of involving family in the care process.
"She gave me the nicest compliment; I had taken care of five of her children over the course of 10 years, but she has now taken over the role as sort of the primary investigator for her family," Dr. Opheim says. "She considers herself the family administrator. It's wonderful to see a parent become that empowered and feel comfortable in overseeing the well-being of her family."
At Columbia Hills Family Medicine, Dr. Opheim has been reunited with Michelle Beaman, M.D., a former colleague from their days at Portland's Emanuel Medical Center. "I felt an instant rapport here," she says.
In her practice, Dr. Opheim will be seeing patients anywhere from newborns to 18 year olds. In her off time, she hopes to settle into her new community and maybe attack the dresser full of crafts she brought with her. "I have so many crafts I think I could start an after-school program for kids," jokes Dr. Opheim, who has a 15-year-old son.
She also enjoys gardening, fishing (and tying her own flies) and is an avid sailor. She purchased her father's old 24 footer and for the last 10 years has made an annual trip back to Flathead Lake to sail it.
"I keep looking at the Columbia River, but I don't think I'm quite ready to bring the boat down and tackle that," Dr. Opheim says.
Appointments with the community's newest pediatrician can be made by calling Columbia Hills Family Medicine at (541) 296-9151.