Dr. Christopher Klaus: Family medicine is the key
Each summer, Block Island Health Services augments its medical staff with Brown University Medical School students and graduates. This year is no different, and to acquaint the community with the most recent of these young doctors on rotation at the local center, The Block Island Times sat down to meet three of them while they were here on rotation. In the second in a series of profiles, this week we introduce Dr. Christopher Klaus.
For Christopher Klaus, there is no question that to be a physician means practicing family medicine, which, he says, “teaches you to practice medicine the way [it] was practiced 100 years ago, taking care of patients cradle to grave.” He notes this desire may derive from his liberal arts background and from his many interests.
Though born in Denver, Colo., Klaus and his family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska when he was 5 years old. He attended St. Olaf College, a small liberal arts school in Northfield, Minnesota, earning a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy. It was there on the first day of school that he met his future wife, Lindsey Beal.
Klaus’ grandfather was a small town surgeon in Nebraska, who covered a 100-mile radius. Klaus was very close to his granddad, who stopped practicing when Klaus was close to 10. He died when Klaus was in his third year of medical school.
Of his grandfather Klaus says, “He would have loved to hear about the Block Island assignment.” Klaus acknowledges he wanted to go into medicine because of his grandfather, who was the only connection in his family to the field.
Pointing out the eclectic nature of his family’s professions, Klaus says his father, Dan, is a lawyer and Carol, his mother, is an early education instructor at a college; they both still live in Lincoln, Nebraska. “I have a 29 year-old sister — in finance,” he adds.
After completing four years of medical school at the University of Iowa, Klaus is currently in his last year of residency at Brown University.
Reading 20th century works
Describing himself as an avid reader, Klaus says, “I am working my way through authors of the first half of the 20th century.” He has read all of Hemingway, as well as Albert Camus and Gabriel Marquez and is now reading Henry Miller. Klaus also enjoys camping and hiking and between college and medical school while in Portland, Oregon he “did lots of rock climbing.”
Klaus and his wife, Lindsey Beal, who is a photographer, live in Providence. With an undergraduate degree in English, Art and Women’s Studies and later a Master’s in photography, paper-making and book-binding, Beal currently works with AS 220, a non-profit arts community in Providence, and teaches photography at several high schools. Klaus says, with no little pride, “She’s represented by a big gallery in Boston, where she has shows.”
Protected time with each patient
In speaking of the everyday practice of medicine, Klaus says that what he most enjoys is “chatting with people, getting to meet them and to know their stories under good circumstances and bad.” He believes through getting to know them well, he can “help them however I can.” He adds, “This brings a kind of joy to me. Even if it’s very busy, I feel I can reverse things: I can have protected time with each patient.”
Most of the time, he says, a doctor meets patients not in the best situations, but Klaus feels, “You can usually offer some reprieve.” He notes that at times “just the interaction can be therapeutic” and he can bring reassurance to patients. He stresses that it is very important to “allow people to air their griefs.”
Part of what Klaus has valued about his training has been the opportunity to work under and learn from older and more seasoned physicians, a process he speaks of as “an apprenticeship in which you work under hundreds of masters, pulling out the best of each.” From these encounters, he adds, “You build a sense of how to fill your own role, [creating] your own sense of identity as a physician.” He feels the process of carving out that identity is ongoing for him and “taking shape constantly.”
At this time, after completing his current residency, he says there are many possibilities waiting for him, but he is unsure where he will go. He explains he has received “a number of job offers, [because] primary care is in high demand.” Klaus adds there aren’t that many medical graduates going into the field. As a result, he finds he can go anywhere in the States, but he says, “I’m putting off the decision until the fall.”
Having lived out west in Colorado, Nebraska and Oregon, he has found there are many opportunities in areas which may need a physician for just a few years, which has made him think of travelling—that is, doing an assignment for several years each in a number of places. He says there are many communities across the country which need physicians even for the short term.
Pointing out “the United States is such a diverse country and so unique in its various areas,” Klaus feels living for a while in different places may be an interesting way to learn more about the country.
Of his experience on the island, Klaus says, “[It] was great!” Having only been here once before his recent month-long assignment, he says, “We worked very hard seeing patients, but with our free time enjoyed swimming in Fresh Pond and Mansion Beach, hiking on the Greenway paths and exploring the island. The rural aspect was great and gave me the opportunity to practice full spectrum medicine.”
He adds, “As other residents have said in the past, the Block Island rotation is one of the best rotations in residency.” With his island assignment behind him, Klaus has returned to Providence, where he is now continuing his residency at Pawtucket Memorial Hospital.