Provider Q & A

Our patient-centered approach to health care thrives on trust, mutual respect and open communication between patient and provider. To foster that, we present a growing list of Q&As with our providers that look beyond their resumes and focus on what motivates them inside and outside their medical practices. Get to know your provider, and enjoy the improved health benefits that our patient-centered approach delivers.

Q & A with Susan Hage, DO

Susan Hage, DOHow does a professional modern dancer become a physician? What inspires a person to relocate to Midcoast Maine during their very first visit here? And how has physiatry accumulated so many hip monikers? These are the questions Susan Hage, DO, has faced for much of her career. Raised in Detroit and a graduate of Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Hage joined Waldo County General Hospital (WCGH) in 2015 and now sees patients at both WCGH and Pen Bay Medical Center. For more information about Dr. Hage, call 207-548-2475

What inspired you to practice medicine? I have many family members who are physicians, so the idea was instilled early on. I know it sounds hokey, but I was about 4 years old when I said I wanted to be a doctor. In college, my first choice was to be a clinical child psychologist. Then I changed my major to physical therapy and then to pre-med. In the end, I earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in psychology and one in dance.

Dance? I’ve danced since I was 13 years old. When I was in medical school, I was in a professional modern dance company. During my residency, I was anon-call physician for the Atlanta Ballet and took classes there. When I was a physician working in a Michigan hospital, a PR person for the hospital came by and said, ‘Hey, I hear you have a background in dance.’ He was also the director of a local community theater, and he asked if I would choreograph a musical for them. So I choreographed musicals while I was a practicing physician.

Was there an internal debate about what path you would take, dance or medicine? A huge debate! In my last year of college, my professors were really pushing for me to pursue a career as a professional dancer. Then the acceptance letter for medical school came in. There was about a month of going back and forth. In the end, even though I believe both make the world a better place, I thought I could make a bigger impact in medicine.

Does dance inform your medical practice? I think I understand anatomy and biomechanics on a deeper level because of my dancing. Having been an athlete and an artist who uses her body as an instrument, I’ve had my share of sports injuries. So when my patients tell me what’s bothering them, I understand what they’re feeling.

How do you approach new patients? I try to understand them, from their activity level to their psychosocial well-being to their nutrition. Self-care is the baseline – taking care of your body as a physical structure through posture, biomechanics, stretching and strength training. In many cases, medications and injections provide relief for three hours or three months, but they’re not cures. The thing that makes a lasting difference is when you’re working with the mind and the body, with injections layered in as necessary. By the time folks come to see me, they’ve been living with something chronically. So there is often an emotional component. We talk about relaxation, meditation, positive perceptions, affirmation, journaling, and prayer, whatever resonates for the patient.

Does the term ‘holistic practitioner’ apply to what you do? I would say so. I treat the whole person. And I think that’s really the physiatrist’s approach. I think what physiatrists have always done is now being given hip names, like lifestyle medicine, like integrative medicine, like holistic medicine, like self-care, but these are things we’ve always focused on.

Why Maine? I grew up in Detroit and did my residency in Atlanta. I wanted to try a different way of life. I had a friend in my residency who said, ‘Why don’t you think about coming up to Maine?’ So my husband and I came up to take a look over Easter. I saw the Camden Hills. I saw the ocean. When I saw the Camden Opera House, as a dancer I just said, ‘I think I’m home.’ We bought a house the very next day! When we went back to Michigan for a year after my first child was born, I just couldn’t shake how much I missed Maine – its natural beauty, the quality of life, the sense of community.

Learn more about physical and integrative medicine.

Q & A with Sally Kirkpatrick, MD

Sally KirkpatrickAbout the only thing knitting and doctoring would seem to have in common is that they involve needles. Dig a little deeper, though, and it is clear that both provided a strong sense of meaning in the life of Sally Kirkpatrick, MD, a neurologist at Pen Bay Medical Center.

Dr. Kirkpatrick joined the neurology practice at PBMC earlier this year. A graduate of the MCP Hahnemann University School of Medicine, she served her residencies at Harvard Medical School. Neurology is a branch of medicine dealing with disorders of the nervous system and includes patients suffering from conditions such as migraines, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, stroke, epilepsy, nerve and muscle disorders, and movement disorders. For more information about Dr. Kirkpatrick, call her office at 207-301-5757.

How do you approach a new patient? I start appointments by saying, “OK, tell me your story.” We usually talk for half the appointment, about half an hour or so. Then I examine them. A neuro exam is different from any other medical exam. First, you only have to take off your shoes. I play games with the patient, poke them, and hit them with reflex hammers. It doesn’t hurt, in fact it might tickle. I ask what some people might think are weird questions. But the patient’s answers tell me about their nervous system, and it’s useful. Then I tell them what I think and we go from there.

Who inspired you to go to medical school? My dad is a doctor. I always had the impression from him that medicine was worth devoting your life to. I actually thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist. But in medical school I had wonderful rotation in neurology and that got me interested in being a neurologist.

What has been your biggest challenge in medicine? I think that, fundamentally, medicine is a beautiful calling, but there are many obstacles. The biggest challenge is the business aspects of medicine. When a patient comes in to my exam room and we close the door, we are all that is there: no insurance, no hospital. We’re not checking boxes.

What are you interests outside the hospital?
My passion is fiber arts. Knit, spin, felt weave, dye. I make clothes and felted scarves. I take an approach called ‘weaving a life,’ where you use weaving as a way of self-examination. You weave little items, a doll for example. They’re sort of archetypal and as you weave them you think about different things. The loom becomes a framework for looking at your life. As you move the back and forth strings through the up and down strings, it’s contemplative. This approach was formalized by Susan Barrett Merrill. There is a progression to what you weave. It’s like taking a journey.

What can you tell us about yourself that we probably don’t know?
I home schooled my children. It was the most fun thing I have ever done. It was live neurology. I was watching these young brains learn. It gave me a lot of respect for the importance of nurturing children and being in a safe environment to learn. We started doing it because my son, who we knew was smart, was having a hard time learning how to read. We investigated a lot of options and in the end decided to try teaching him at home. He stopped being anxious and he learned to read. It turned out that he was dyslexic. We did a lot of multi-sensory learning, so it gave me an appreciation for the whole of the nervous system. I now use that experience when I talk to people with dementia. They always want to talk about their memories, but I tell them there is so much more they can do: listen to music, make music, make beautiful things, dance. There’s so much more that your brain can do.

You have practiced medicine in Maine for 25 years. Why Maine?
We came here because my husband’s family had a summer place here and we thought it would be wonderful to live here. Obviously, it’s beautiful but we like the authenticity. People are very straightforward. It has been a great place to raise our kids. They had a ton of freedom. They could ride their bikes wherever they wanted. They could walk to friends’ houses, and go buy too much candy and have the lady at the store say, “I’m going to tell your mother how much candy you’re buying.” It was great.

Learn more about neurology and Pen Bay Medical Center.

Q & A with Kirk Bernadino, MD

Kirk BernadinoWhat is the common thread that runs through a person’s hobbies, fatherhood and the practice of medicine? For Kirk Bernadino, MD, the answer lies in creativity. Dr. Bernadino joined Pen Bay Medical Center in 2018 as director of endoscopy. As a gastroenterologist, he focuses on such conditions as irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, perianal abscesses, anal fistulas, perianal infections, diverticular diseases, colitis, colon polyps and cancer. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Vermont College of Medicine in 1998, Dr. Bernadino served his residency at Maine Medical Center. From 2006 to 2018 he practiced gastroenterology at Essentia Health in Duluth, Minn. He served as chief of gastroenterology at Essentia Health before returning to Maine in 2018. Dr. Bernadino’s office can be reached at 207-301-5970. It is located in the Physicians Building, suite 103, at 4 Glen Cove Dr.

How did you decide to go to medical school?
I was a retail pharmacist for several years and found that it was not as stimulating as I hoped. This was before retail pharmacy became interactive with an emphasis on counseling patients. I started thinking about culinary school, a furniture-making apprenticeship and medical school. I was in my mid-20s and thought I wanted a career that allowed creativity. There are trends in both food and furniture making. It’s the rare person who can step aside from those trends and be truly unique. Although I sought creativity and uniqueness, it was intimidating to imagine a career that I thought demanded them. In medicine there is truth. I can learn it and I can practice it. There’s a structure and a process to medical training that I thought left little room for variation or expression.

Do you find room for creativity in medicine?
Unexpectedly, I did. The creativity I found in medicine is in how I interact with patients. I try to understand their relationship with disease. That often helps me learn how well they cope, whether they are satisfied with how well their disease is controlled, or if they are in need of something more to meet their treatment expectations.

Looking back, is there a moment that affirms your decision to practice medicine?
Much of my career has been dedicated to procedures that evaluate potential cancers. So not infrequently, I am responsible for delivering a cancer diagnosis. It’s always daunting, but I work hard at helping patients and their families understand the diagnosis. It’s a life altering moment to hear that you have cancer but, in the same breath, many people ask, ‘What does it mean?’ Helping patients understand what it means and what to expect is the place where I think I have made the most difference in people’s lives.

You’ve had some interesting hobbies over the years: hiking many of the 4,000-foot mountains throughout New England, piloting hot air balloons, restoring old Land Rovers, collecting lighting fixtures from old Pullman rail cars. What are your passions these days?
Right now, I’m primarily a dad. I have two young boys who I recently brought half way across the country to Maine. So I’ve let go of a lot of hobbies to take on the ultimate responsibility of raising children. But I haven’t relinquished all of my hobbies. Now I embrace my children’s interests. For examples, one of my sons is teaching me to sail and I am learning to play ukulele along with them.

You’ve spoken about creativity. How creative is it being the father of two?
I think creativity in fatherhood has a lot to do with recreating yourself and creating the image your children will hold of you. But there are norms and structure to follow, like trying to raise them in a religious faith or teach them socially acceptable behaviors. There’s not a lot of creativity in what you teach them but there’s a lot of creativity in how you deliver it. I’ve learned approaches that work for one of my sons doesn’t necessarily work for the other.

Why practice in Maine?
In terms of practicing medicine, the idea of following in the footsteps of Dr. Neil Smith (Editor’s Note: Dr. Smith retired in 2016 after practicing for more than 20 years) and carrying on his dream of providing high quality, state-of-the-art gastrointestinal care to this community was very appealing. Dr. Smith pioneered gastroenterology in our community. His superb clinical skills and ever-present grace and compassion are very big shoes to fill.

Q & A with Robert Grondahl, MD

Robert E Grondahl, MDWhen some people think of U.S. Army doctors, they think of MASH, the 1970s television comedy-drama about a combat surgical unit in the Korean War. For Robert Grondahl, MD, 17 years in the Army was so much more. The son of a school nurse, Dr. Grondahl entered the Army searching for direction. He returned to civilian life 17 years later with medical degree in hand and years of experience as a family practitioner, obstetrician and gynecologist. Dr. Grondahl joined Waldo County Medical Partners Women’s Health this month and is accepting new patients. His office can be reached at 207-505-4332.

Who inspired you to go to medical school?
Well, my mom was a nurse, so she was probably my first inspiration. She did mostly school nursing, so I got to see a little bit about what she did, and occasionally I would see her helping people who were hurting. That made a deep impression on me. Out of high school, I went into the Army not knowing what else to do and realized, even though it was fun to jump out of planes and do Army stuff, that it wasn’t a good fit. That’s when I really became interested in medicine. So I requested an educational delay to go to medical school in Syracuse, New York. The Army said, “All right, it’s worth it to us to have you as a physician as opposed to an infantry man. Go for it.”

And you continued to serve in the Army after medical school?
I really wanted to practice in a rural setting and do it all. So I did a full residency in Family Practice before re-entering the Army. When I went back on active duty, I went to Fort Campbell in Kentucky and for the next four years I really got to “do it all” in the base hospital there. All kinds of cases - from obstetrics to internal medicine and pediatrics, and lots of them. It was a great experience. But it was a time that medicine was really starting to emphasize specialties, and I felt I had to make a decision about my career. I loved obstetrics. I mean, when I learned the cardinal movements of the fetus in labor, and when I got to see labor progress from start to finish – it was such a natural fit. But I also loved surgery. So, combining the desire to do both surgery and obstetrics, I did a second residency in OB/ GYN in San Antonio, Texas. After that, I went to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and got to really practice my specialty in the base hospital. It was high volume, so we did about 300 deliveries a month. And there was a high GYN surgical volume as well. This is all while I’m still on active duty, so I still got to do Army stuff, because that’s just fun, and then got to practice as an OB-GYN.

How does your military experience inform your practice of medicine?
The idea of flexibility comes to mind. In the Army, we always said, “improvise and overcome,” because you just never knew what was going to get thrown at you. Doing field medicine, moving around, and dealing with all of the unknowns, I think, helps me. It gives me a broad base of knowledge and a calmness.

And then you decided to return to civilian life?
In the Army, they tend to keep promoting you until eventually you’re in charge of something. I have the utmost respect for administrators, but I know myself well enough to know that I’m not one of them. The Army wanted me to take over the department at Fort Bragg, but that would have left me with just a half day of surgery per month and a half day of clinical work. I didn’t want to give those things up. What I love is what happens when I meet a patient for the first time. I have this privilege of being able to listen first, and then problem solve with that patient, and help make a plan that’s going to make a real difference.

So what can a new patient expect when they meet you for the first time?
Very rarely is that first visit just a nonchalant, “Yeah, I’m here for my cough. Do I need an antibiotic?” It’s filled with all kinds of questions, wonders, worries, fears, hopes, dreams. The first thing I do is to make the patient comfortable because it’s natural that they’d be nervous about meeting a new provider, especially one who will be helping them with some of the most important things in their life. I try to listen more than I talk and understand their hopes and dreams. What’s most important to me is that the patient knows they have been listened to.

So you start a successful practice in Indiana but end up in Maine... Once out of the Army, I built my dream practice in Indianapolis. I knew all my patients. New patients would just keep coming in because of word of mouth. But then, as our kids grew up and went out on their own, it became clear to me and my wife that our hearts were Maine. We have friends throughout New England and were visiting Maine every chance we got. We love winter things. We love to put micro spikes on and hike up an icy mountain. We like to snowshoe, we like to cross-country and Nordic ski, we downhill ski, we just love that stuff. But we didn’t want to just come here someday to retire. I’m not tired yet. I’ve got 20 more years of medicine in me, easy. I want to do a good job, and I want to have roots in the community where I practice medicine. I came here for my interview during a Nor’easter and someone apologized for the weather. But to me it was perfect.

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