When John and Anne Merrill-Steskal went looking for a place to call home, who could have guessed the answer lay at the end of a rainbow?
It was June 1993. John, who attended medical school at the University of Kansas, was finishing a residency in family practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A fellow resident knew Ellensburg. “So I talked to Dr. Bruce Herman who was recruiting for what was then the Valley Clinic (now KVH Family Medicine-Ellensburg),” John says. “We flew out and fell in love with the place immediately.” Their trip included hiking Manastash Ridge with Herman and his wife Dr. Elise Herman.
“There was this huge rainbow at the top of the ridge,” John says. “It was unforgettable. We were both struck by what a beautiful valley it was. It was as if the rainbow was the icing on the cake, confirmation of our impression of Ellensburg and the area in general.”
After all, the Merrill-Steskals had arrived in search of a college town with a good healthcare system, a strong community and easy access to hiking. Nearly a quarter of a century later the only thing that's changed is a deepening appreciation for the place they call home.
They live at the base of Manastash Ridge on 20 acres they share with two other families. It's where they raised their son Gabe, an EHS graduate enrolled at Whitman and currently studying piano in Europe. A 12-year-old golden retriever they call Cascade keeps them company.
John, a veteran of 22 years practicing family medicine, also hikes, gardens, does stained glass and makes bread, while Anne, a physical therapist who has worked for Kittitas Valley Healthcare for 16 years and now specializes in vestibular rehabilitation therapy, enjoys spending time with friends and family, landscaping with native plants, hiking and swimming in mountain lakes.
Still in love with their surroundings, they hike the ridge together three days a week.
And both say they've found fulfilling careers at KVH.
Anne appreciates the opportunities she's had within the field of physical therapy both to treat diverse conditions and specialize in a variety of areas. In 2013, with KVH support she advanced her education by completing a doctorate in physical therapy.
As for John, “I really like the people at KVH and I believe KVH strives for high quality care. It's a supportive organization that wants me to be able to do my job,” he says. An instructor for a student he was precepting once asked if he'd ever had a patient encounter that convinced him family medicine had been the right choice for him.
“I have those experiences weekly. I love interacting with people,” John says, beaming. “Family medicine is a perfect fit for me and what I love to do.”
And what he loves to do goes far beyond the exam room.
A Passion for Healthy Communication
Convinced that family physicians “need to get out of their clinics and make their voices heard in their communities,” John leads by example sharing what he calls “a passion for behavior that promotes a healthy lifestyle” through social media and technology.
Since June of 2015, he's hosted Dr. John's Radio Show which streams at noon on the first Friday of every month on Ellensburg Community Radio. Last March, John launched a monthly blog. It features short, reader-friendly posts on a variety of subjects ranging from the importance of vaccines to a common sense approach to weight loss, his own experience dealing with cancer, the overuse of antibiotics and the benefits of exercise and getting out into nature.
While one-on-one interactions with patients are the cornerstone for his love of being a doctor, he says the radio show and the blog heighten the enjoyment he finds in practicing medicine.
His efforts haven't gone unnoticed.
This past spring, he was one of two national recipients of the 2016 American Academy of Family Physicians Vaccine Science Fellowships. The fellowships enable recipients to gain expertise in vaccine science and policy.
“It ties right into my interest in promoting behaviors that lead to a healthy life,” he says. “Vaccines have prevented disease and saved more lives than any other aspect of medicine.”
Follow Dr. Merrill-Steskal’s blog at espresso3med.wordpress.com.