It's 8:15 on a Wednesday morning and pharmacist Brady Ritscher is preparing for the daily huddle at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Hospital and Clinics. Today, he's introducing Julian, a third-year pharmacy student from the University of Minnesota who's spending two weeks in Wabasha. The huddle is virtual and, because Brady and Julian are sitting together in one office, they're both wearing masks.
Meanwhile, Ryan Reidt, a physical therapist at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's, is getting ready to meet with his first patient of the day – a woman who's recovering from a knee replacement.
Throughout the last 18 months, COVID-19 forced Brady and Ryan – colleagues, third cousins, Alma natives and now neighbors in Buffalo City – to sometimes pivot from their roles as a pharmacist and physical therapist. Brady helped set up curbside pick-up for pharmacy prescriptions while Ryan worked with patients virtually.
Despite the challenges, Brady and Ryan are both smiling – under their masks – and feeling that healthcare is the right place for them. Much of that stems from a foundation that goes back more than a decade.
Discovering his career path by accident
"Ryan was a special kid. He was one of those kids who'd succeed no matter what," says Jared Peterson. Jared, also a physical therapist at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's, began working with Ryan after the then-high school student was injured.
Jared introduced Ryan to a career in physical therapy.
"That initial experience working with Jared sparked my interest," Ryan, 32, says.
In 2011, Jared took a role at another organization. Four years later, Ryan was hired as Gundersen St. Elizabeth's newest physical therapist.
And, this year, Jared returned to practice physical therapy at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's. The two – former mentor and mentee – are now colleagues, helping more than 200 patients visiting Gundersen St. Elizabeth's for physical therapy each week.
"Physical therapists – and all specialists at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's – are encouraged to get to know their patients on a personal level," Jared says. "We're not providing segmented care; we're treating patients holistically."
Prescribing a future rooted in community
"The pharmacist in Alma when I was growing up was a great role model," Brady, 30, says. "People always admired him. He was an integral part of the community."
That local pharmacy in Alma became Brady's first job and introduction into rural healthcare. A few years later, he gained more experience – this time at the hospital pharmacy inside Gundersen St. Elizabeth's. That's when me met Kurt Henn, the director of pharmacy, who would also become a role model.
Brady went on to get his bachelor's degree and then completed a four-year pharmacy program. During his final year of pharmacy school, Brady spent time working in seven different organizations – including pharmacies in Wabasha and La Crosse. After graduation, he returned to Wabasha, joining Gundersen St. Elizabeth's team of pharmacists.
"Brady's long-term connection to our area has been a great benefit for both Gundersen St. Elizabeth's and the patients we serve," Kurt says. "Pharmacists have a unique opportunity to impact patient outcomes and lives on a daily basis."
Brady feels that too. He oversees the day-to-day operations at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Outpatient Pharmacy, which serves about 100 patients a day. "Being able to build relationships with our patients and with each other reminds me over and over again why I started down this path – the community."
The community, and mentors like Kurt. "He has provided a great example of what a small-town healthcare provider can be at its best. His dedication to bringing high-quality healthcare to our rural area has been a big lesson."
Pivoting during COVID-19
While Brady and Ryan both pivoted throughout the last 18 months, they're back to helping patients.
"It's really heartwarming to welcome our patients back in person," Ryan says. "They're expressing to us how much they missed our services. It reassures me that I'm in the right place at the right time. We're continuing to do whatever we can do to bring good quality healthcare to the area."
After the morning huddle, Brady and pharmacy student Julian answers a question from a patient about a new medication. Then, they'll be part of a conversation about local COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
For Brady and Ryan, mentorship and empowerment go hand-in-hand with rural healthcare. They've come to understand that while residents and patients are relying on them for trusted healthcare, so too are the next generation of pharmacists and physical therapists, like Julian. And Brady and Ryan will be there – just like Jared and Kurt were there for them.
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