Pursuing a Life's Calling

Dr. Paulanne Balch
Family Medicine Physician

Pursuing a Life’s Calling

For most who enter medicine, the path from passion to physician is linear – Dr. Paulanne Balch is not like most.

Medicine was not her first career, nor her second. But, as her retirement draws near and her decades-long medical career comes to a close, Dr. Balch, family practitioner at the Kaiser Permaenente Hidden Lake Medical Offices, celebrates the paths that have brought her here and the people who have made a lasting impression.

“I was a minister before my first path to medical school took an unplanned detour that led to a 12-year career in management information systems (MIS) consulting. I’d always wanted to be a doctor; when the opportunity came near the end of my career in MIS, it was the right time in my life to go for it. Which, being 40 and going back to ­– not just school, but medical school and working every other night in call in trauma surgery? It’s wasn’t just hard, it was horrible,” she laughs.

These experiences gave Dr. Balch a unique perspective on patient care and the role of technology in that care ­– something she’s been able to pursue at CPMG both working with patients and working digital services.

“If becoming a physician has been my life’s calling, connecting with people has certainly been a passion. As a family practitioner, you get to see the whole spectrum of a person’s life, not just the ailment they’re seeing you for. While I had training in medical ethics, I think my background [as a minister] has made me acutely aware of how our souls cry out through our bodies in the illnesses and injury. I think it’s given me another level on which I’m able to connect with my patients.”

“At CPMG, I’ve been able to use my interest and experience information systems to help patients better connect with and really take ownership of their healthcare. In fact, what drew me to CPMG in the first place was that the use of evidence was emphasized and presented at the point of care. Early on, they understood that the future of medicine lie in the ability for patients to personalize their care. So, with my work in digital services, I’ve been able to help guide that transition toward connected care.”

None of this, Dr. Balch says, would be possible without Kaiser Permanente’s integrated model of healthcare delivery. In this integrated model, primary care and specialty care physicians work as a team to provide care to the members of Kaiser Permanente.

“Connected care can’t be outside-in. It has to be operationalized.  We come through medical training and see a lot of waste and duplication of efforts. And, really, I think that’s where CPMG, and Kaiser Permanente as a whole, is ahead of the competition. With an integrated model, you can see what’s been done, get almost instant input from specialists, and present patients with options they haven’t tried yet. Across departments, top to bottom, we realize that we’re all on the same team. We all want to do what’s right for our patients. I would say most physicians come to this organization because of that value.”

As she transitions into retirement, leaving her practice and passion for connected care in the hands of the next generation of physicians, it’s the people she’s met, worked with, and cared for who have made the most lasting impact on her career.

“Becoming a doctor is a 10- to 15-year process. Formal training is just the start. With 20 years at CPMG, it feels like I just reached the point where I know the job. As a person who has pursued a lifetime dream, having lived it with colleagues who have now become lifelong friends, I couldn’t ask for a richer professional experience.”

“Getting to know my patients has been one of the most rewarding parts of family practice, so saying goodbye to them – some of which I’ve taken care of four generations of their families – has been one of the hardest parts of leaving. I’ve loved this experience and loved my patients – I tear up just thinking about it – but it’s a big deal to have cared for so many people for so long and now its time to go. It’s been a real privilege.” 

To learn more about how Dr. Balch has utilized her interest in connected care to enrich her career at CPMG, read part two of her story.

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