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Stories of Service: Drs. Fred Hund and Kathy Nelson-Hund Reflect on Their Careers and Contributions

Published in For the Health of It, Medical Professionals

A retirement at the end of 2023 spurs reflection on the defining moments that have shaped their careers, appreciating the winding paths that led them to the heartwarming present, and what they'll miss most.

The busy chatter of employees can be heard from the Garden Court Café, located in the lower level of Rice Memorial Hospital.

Fred Hund, MD, leans back in his chair with his hands tucked behind his head, his wife, Kathryn Nelson-Hund, MD, smiles while settling into the seat next to him.

"I like hospitals," admits Fred. "As an institution, I like walking down the hallway and interacting with all the different people you see here. I am going to miss all these people I've worked with. The pharmacists, nurses, social workers…everyone. I've been told I've sort of been a father figure at the hospital."

Settled at a table near the Rice cafeteria, Drs. Fred Hund and Kathryn Nelson-Hund pause to reminisce and share the milestones that brought them to where they are today.

Journey to Willmar, Minn.

"Fred is from Kansas City, Kansas, and I'm from Lamberton, Minnesota," explained Kathy. "We met when I was in my first year of medical school and he was a senior at the University of Minnesota."

As an undergrad biochemistry major at the University of Minnesota, Fred happened to be lab partners with one of Kathy's housemates and would often come to the girls' place to study.

"My friends and I would yell from the top window to where he was studying on the floor below, "Yoo-hoo, cute boy…," Kathy relays with a laugh and a hint of mischief.

It must have worked, because they eventually were set up on a date which led to a long-distance relationship.

"Two medical students who liked horses," smiled Fred. "It couldn't go wrong."

The couple married shortly after Kathy's graduation from medical school at the U of M. Fred was in New York at the time attending medical school at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. They managed to complete rotations back and forth between the two schools.

"It was hard because he was still a fourth-year medical student in New York while I was starting my family medicine residency at North Memorial Medical Center in Minneapolis," recalls Kathy. "We were far apart right after getting married."

Kathy went on to complete her residency at North Memorial and an internship at Fairview – St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis. After medical school, Fred completed his internal medicine internship and residency at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, including echocardiography training and an extra year as chief resident.

Their first official jobs after school were located just outside of Aspen, Colorado, in separate medical practices. After just one year, they realized they missed the core family values found in the Midwest and began a search for career opportunities back in Minnesota.

They had two requirements they were looking to find in a new practice. Kathy sought obstetrics back-up, and Fred required a CT scanner on site, which he felt spoke to the level of technology available in a smaller community at that time.

"We wanted a rural practice, but a large enough site for on-call to be livable," said Kathy. "We interviewed at five different places in five days while my parents watched our one-year-old daughter."

Having deliberated between Willmar and New Ulm, they ultimately chose Willmar because of its distance from the Twin Cities. It was sufficiently distant to provide a diverse range of services to local patients.

"We made the decision and moved six weeks later," remembers Kathy. "Bunny Iverson, a recruiter with ACMC at the time, rented us a place site unseen and Dr. Marie Schroeder offered to board our three horses who made the move from Colorado to Minnesota with us."

Two busy medical practices

In 1989 they joined Affiliated Community Medical Centers. Fred became one of nine internists and Kathy joined the family medicine department made up of seventeen physicians.

Kathy recalled how it was difficult being one of only a few female physicians at that time. "The only other women when I started were Dr. Peggy Johnson, Dr. Patty Merickel, and Dr. Marie Schroeder. When you were at the hospital for a delivery there was no designated space for women doctors to change into scrubs, and all the scrubs were sized for men. Once Dr. Kathryn Duevel joined as our first female OB/GYN, they finally made a few changes in the surgical area at the hospital to accommodate women physicians."

Fred speaking with Drs. Patty and John Merickel.

"Times have really changed," nodded Fred. "Now there are occasions when there are more male nurses than females on a shift, and we have more women graduating from medical school than men."

As a busy married couple balancing two medical careers and a young family, things were hectic, but they made it work by adjusting schedules which allowed for more flexibility as a family.

Kathy and Fred with their two daughters.

"We learned early to set boundaries between home and work," said Kathy. "When our girls were young, we would do call on the same weekend and hire a college student to stay in the house. Willmar was a very good place to raise our children."

Contributing to the greater good

As a family medicine physician, Kathy cherished all her patients, but those who were navigating life challenges held a special place for her. She was an advocate for abused children and women, and she cared for many women with eating disorders.

"It was satisfying when they would come back and tell you that they took your advice," Kathy said. "When they would say you told me I could — so I did."

Nov. 14, 1991, Dr. Fred Hund and Dr. Kathryn Nelson visit with Hilda Schmalz, 70 as she recovers at Rice Memorial Hospital following a cardiac arrest last weekend at a local restaurant. Hund and Nelson are credited with saving Mrs. Schmalz's life by administering CPR until an ambulance was able to take her to the hospital. - West Central Tribune article

Fred nods in agreement with his wife, "She has a gift with people where they feel open to share with her. One day Kathy came home and told me she had gone through three boxes of Kleenex that day."

In 1998, following a medical leave, Kathy's career path took an unexpected turn, and she pivoted from her family medicine practice to a new role supporting a variety of areas in need.

"I started teaching once a week for medical students, nurse practitioner and physician assistant students, osteopaths, and any other students who were here," said Kathy. "We covered many different topics. I also helped coordinate required student projects and we did many site visits and case studies."

Kathy's contributions did not end with students. Over the years she served on several task forces including a rural medical research task force out of Duluth, the state's obesity task force where she assisted in writing practice guidelines, a prenatal task force involving public health for multiple counties, a task force that looked at educating new employees about racism, and a local task force for teenage pregnancy.

She ran the Reach Out & Read childhood literacy program at ACMC for many years, writing grants, sourcing books, and designing the distribution method throughout the multi-site system. She wrote the protocol for preoperative management for the anticoagulation clinic, which went on to win a national award, and she worked on a grant for the vaccination registry for multiple organizations, ultimately supporting Minnesota to become the first state vaccine registry in the nation.

Kathy was involved in several educational initiatives including a presentation to get an Area Health Education Center to Willmar, where she also served on the Board until it was dissolved. And during the Covid pandemic she wrote protocols to support clinic outpatient management of oxygen use and nurses phone triage and follow call management, along with curating Covid tips and sending them out to local clinicians.

"After Kathy stopped practicing medicine, she continued contributing over the next twenty-six years," said Fred. "She wanted to help. I am very proud of all the ways she has found to serve."

Thousands of patient stories

After practicing as a general internist for 17 years, Fred made the move from outpatient care to inpatient care when he became the first hospitalist at Rice Memorial Hospital in 2005.

"I've always enjoyed the hospital more than when I was in the clinic with an office practice, and hospitalists were the direction it was going, so I pushed for it," he said.

When the program began, hospitalists had limited coverage in the hospital. As it grew, and more hospitalists were added, they became responsible 24/7 for all adult patients at Rice Memorial Hospital who are over the age of 18 and not pregnant.

"I like taking care of sick people," Fred said poignantly. "I like the intense experience of the hospital. It's a short story versus the novel of caring for people in the clinic setting. There are a thousand patient stories."

Dr. hund speaks with Emergency Services physician, Dr. Eric Westberg.

In 2012 Fred took on the additional role as Chief of Staff at Rice Memorial Hospital, a position he remained in for the next ten and a half years; the longest any physician has held this role.

"As Chief of Staff Fred did a great job of keeping it all together," Kathy says.

Fred prefaces his next statement by announcing, "This might sound corny." He continues, "But I'm proud of the times when I was able to help people who were suffering. That is what I'll miss the most (after retirement), going into someone's room and being able to help and comfort them with the knowledge and skills I've developed."

Incredible changes and advancements

When Fred joined the internal medicine team at ACMC in 1989 there was one other physician, Dr. Donald Mattson, who provided echocardiograms (echo tests) in Willmar.

March 1996, Dr. Fred Hund uses an endoscope to obtain cardiac images through the esophagus of a patient.

"The capabilities of echo services really developed during my career," Fred explained. "Since I began it has progressively gotten better and better. That has been the case for everything in imaging. I remember my first year of anatomy in medical school. At that time CAT scans were still all fuzzy. Imaging advancements have seen incredible changes."

Electronic medical records stood out to Fred as one of the most significant advancements during his tenure.

"Despite some frustrations, overall, it's a good thing. I remember back when I used to have to run over to the clinic to get paper charts when admitting a patient to the hospital, sometimes at 2 a.m. It is so much more efficient and effective now."

Spurred by the widespread use of cell phones and technology, Fred commented on the accelerated pace and heightened immediacy of expectations.

"Everyone wants everything instantaneous. In the past, when someone requested something, you could assure them that you'd get to it as soon as you were done with your patient. Now, a few minutes after the request they're wondering why they don't have it yet."

Nov. 18, 2020, Dr. Fred Hund speaking during a Covid press conference.

We have such good people here.

"Covid was hard," said Fred.

"We were working so hard to do the best we knew at that moment in that situation. I remember having to meet and create a protocol for how to decide who would get a vent if there weren't enough for all the patients who needed one. A group of us would have to make this judgment call. Thankfully we never got to that point, but it was tough. It was hard having people not trust us and believe what we were doing."

One of Fred's favorite memories was from a nurse who was extremely tired from working doubles and overnights during Covid. "When I asked her what kept her going, she said, I'm just so glad we could suck it up together," Fred smiles and laughs. "During the worst of Covid we knew that we were a family and there was a true sense of team spirit. It has been a privilege and honor to work with all these people who just keep showing up."

While there were many stressful times, there was also plenty of fun.

Hospitalists, Dr. Mike May and Dr. Fred Hund

Dr. Steven Bell, Dr. Janae Bell, Jessica Vagle, and Dr. Fred Hund

"We were learning new things every day and working with lively, intelligent people from a wide mix of cultures and backgrounds," Fred shared. "Medicine can be a lot of fun. It's intellectually stimulating when you love what you learn. Kathy said it well, many doctors struggle through science to become a doctor. For us – we're nerds. We love science. And we have the honor of walking into a room, and with your training, getting to help someone."

Tikkun olam and how to be useful.

Fred jokes that he has been retiring for the last five years, "I went from full time to 6/10 time to half time to 4/10 time."

With an official retirement date of Dec. 31, 2023, Fred will remain in a casual status for at least two years, where he'll maintain his medical license and board certification and can be called up to assist as a hospitalist if the need arises.

"Retire while you still like it and before you hear people whispering that you should retire," laughs Fred. "Although I liked being in the hospital, there were getting to be days when there were other things I'd rather be doing."

Kathy and Fred look forward to more time with their family including their daughters and grandsons in retirement. They'll also continue with horse training, competitions, and travel.

They are both active volunteers in the Willmar community, maintaining ski trails and donating trees to elementary students for planting.

When asked what's next for them, Fred refers to the Hebrew phrase, "tikkun olam," which means we have a duty to repair the world in which we live; a commitment to making the world a better place.

"We'll see what's next," replied Fred. "And how we can be useful."

Dr. Fred Hund and Dr. Kathy Nelson-Hund with their daughter and grandsons at their retirement party.