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Vital Signs

Clinical Observation

In this section, we highlight the human side of clinical academic medicine, putting a few questions to a physician at DMS-DHMC.

Kristine Karlson, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Community and Family Medicine and of Surgery

Karlson joined the faculty in 1997. Winner of two world championships in rowing, she was also team physician for the U.S. National Rowing Team at the 2000 World Championships.

What made you decide to become a physician?

I can't remember actually making the decision. Since high school, it seemed somehow the right place for me and nothing ever changed my mind.

What are your clinical interests?

I trained as a family physician first, then did a fellowship in sports medicine. I see both primary- care patients and sports-medicine patients. I enjoy the challenges and joys of following people over time but also am happy that I can combine my medicine and athletic backgrounds in providing care for athletic people of all ages.

What books have you read recently?

Alice Sebold's books The Lovely Bones and Lucky are two I've read recently. In both she addresses violence from interesting perspectives.

What's your favorite nonwork activity?

Since 1997 I have really gotten excited about cross-country skiing, particularly skate-skiing. It's such a joy to be out in the woods on a clear winter day in a fast, fluid workout.

What about you would surprise most people?

I was not an athlete until college. My mother still says that if she had to pick which one of her five kids would have made an Olympic team, it definitely would not have been me. (I was on the 1992 Olympic rowing team and on four national rowing teams in the years prior to that.)

What do family and friends give you a hard time about?

Patience. When I decide I want to get something done, I usually want to do it now.

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?

Having been board certified in sports medicine in only 1999, I was asked in 2002 to be on the committee that writes the board exam and was subsequently asked to chair the committee. It was a major honor and I think happened because I studied very hard for the exam and did very well on it. A smart colleague who I respect had failed the exam, which got me scared, so I studied harder than I would otherwise have—but it paid off!

What advice would you offer to someone contemplating going into your field?

Students interested in family medicine and other primary-care specialties are given a hard time by specialists who say they are wasting their talents. But where else do people come in with a variety of complaints and undifferentiated problems, asking you to figure it out? By the time a patient reaches a specialist, somebody else has often already made a diagnosis and decided which specialist should see the patient. But we juggle a lot of potential diagnoses and start the process to find the right one.

What's the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

That hard work and wanting something badly don't necessarily mean you'll get it. After my sports fellowship, I trained again for rowing and tried but failed to make the 1996 Olympic team. I have no regrets—it was worth trying, but it was a disappointment.

If you could live in any time period, when would it be?

Maybe turn the clock back 30 to 40 years. It's tempting to yearn for simpler and safer times. However, in almost any other time period my opportunities as a woman in both medicine and sports would have been significantly more limited or nonexistent.

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