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Finding His Fit: Dr. Nathanial Slinkard on Building a Successful Orthopedic Practice in Willmar

Published in Orthopedics, Medical Professionals Author: Nathaniel Slinkard,MD

If you ask Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Nathanial Slinkard where he saw himself after medical school, CentraCare in Willmar, Minn. would be it. His checklist included finding a rural healthcare facility that offers high-quality care for everyone from athletes to the elderly. At CentraCare, he has found just that. With a focus on joint repair, total joint replacement, and sports medicine, Dr. Slinkard has built his practice and is an important orthopedic asset in Willmar, Paynesville, and surrounding communities.

Growing up in New Prague, Minn., Dr. Slinkard remembers how difficult it was to find specialty care in a smaller, rural community. So, when he began his pre-med at St. John's University, he wasn't certain what he would specialize in, but knew that rural health was his priority.

"It was always a pain growing up in a small town and having to drive long distances just to see your specialist," Dr. Slinkard recalled. "That's why I wanted to work in a community where specialty care can be limited."

Once he began medical school at the University of Minnesota, it didn't take long for Dr. Slinkard to realize that orthopedic surgery was his calling.

"There is a big technical aspect to orthopedics because things have to be lined up in a certain way," Dr. Slinkard explained. "For me, I like being able to work with bones, tendons, and ligaments, because they fit, and I can hold them together with plates and screws. It's like being a glorified carpenter."

Before medical school, Dr. Slinkard spent two years at General Mills, working in research and development. He then spent an additional year doing orthopedic-specific research to help improve his knowledge on the inner workings of orthopedics before beginning his residency. "It was a good experience because it allowed me to learn a lot about orthopedic surgery and why we are doing the things we do," Dr. Slinkard said.

Once he completed his course work, Dr. Slinkard faced a new challenge after being placed at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan for his residency. With a newborn son and no living arrangement in place, he and his wife, Wendy, packed up and headed off to their next adventure.

"My son was two weeks old when we found out where we were going for residency," Dr. Slinkard remembered. "We actually didn't have a place to stay until we crossed over the Michigan border. It was a little stressful getting started but it all ended up working out in the end."

After spending five years in Detroit, Dr. Slinkard was ready to build his first medical practice closer to home.

Dr. Slinkard speaking with local community members about orthopedic services.

"I knew I wanted to come back to Minnesota from the start," Dr. Slinkard said. During a pediatric rotation in Minnesota, Dr. Slinkard communicated with different practices throughout the state. It was then that he discovered the medical community in Willmar. "My wife and I both really liked this area, and we could see ourselves raising our family here," he said.

It turns out Willmar and the surrounding area was the perfect fit.

"We absolutely love it here," Dr. Slinkard said. "I like getting to know the people in the community and being able to take care of them is a reward in and of itself."

Since coming to Willmar in September 2016, Dr. Slinkard tasked himself with rebuilding the orthopedic department, which had gone without a full-time surgeon for about a year before he started.

With the opening of a new, state-of-the-art ambulatory surgery center in 2018, he continued expansion of orthopedic services and the surgical team to support the growing demand in the region.

"With the new Surgery Center in Willmar we have increased opportunities to utilize new technologies and techniques that were previously unavailable to us," Dr. Slinkard said.

In 2023 Dr. Slinkard performed the first outpatient total joint replacement procedure at an ambulatory surgery center in our system.

Dr. Slinkard and team perform the first outpatient total joint procedure at the Willmar Surgery Center in August 2023.

"We had been working on developing an outpatient joint replacement program prior to COVID-19," said Dr. Slinkard. "Due to the shortage of available inpatient hospital beds at the time, we were able to move the program forward and safely began providing same day joint replacements in the hospital setting a few years ago. Since that time, we had been preparing and finalizing protocols for the expansion of services to the Willmar Surgery Center. We are excited to now have the option to provide joint replacements in the ambulatory surgery setting, offering increased access and expanded opportunities for qualified candidates."

In his practice, Dr. Slinkard performs a variety of procedures and surgeries in the hospital and outpatient settings. This includes the repair of bones, ligaments and muscles but in most cases, for Dr. Slinkard, total joint replacements. "Every type of surgery is so different and has its own technical aspects that make it challenging and engaging," he described.

Dr. Slinkard supports a local youth football camp in New London.

Dr. Slinkard is also working to expand his sports medicine practice, he enjoys attending local sporting events and consulting with athletes after an injury. As a former collegiate wrestler, Dr. Slinkard experienced two shoulder surgeries which ended his athletic career. He strives to help athletes not suffer the same fate by guiding their rehabilitation. "It helps being able to tell athletes that I have been in their shoes," Dr. Slinkard said. "I know what they are going through and that it can get better."

He frequently consults with injured athletes to determine the best route to help them get back into the game. Often, this may not result in a trip to the operating room but to physical therapy, rest or other recovery options. In instances where athletes do require surgery, Dr. Slinkard follows the healing process through to be sure post-operative care and therapy goes as smoothly as possible.

Beyond performing surgery, Dr. Slinkard hopes to help educate athletes in the local schools on injuries, the importance of becoming multisport athletes and the dangers of overuse.

"I think educating the athletes will help them understand the process better," Dr. Slinkard explained. "Then if I see them later they will be better prepared for treatment and recovery."

The road to becoming an orthopedic surgeon is a long one. For Dr. Slinkard and his family, it took them from Minnesota to Michigan, from research to residency, and brought them to a place they are happy to call home, Willmar.

"I want to continue building the practice to where it once was with four or five surgeons," Dr. Slinkard explained. "Our goal is to provide the best care for people in this area so people don't have to travel for their orthopedic care."

Hear more from Dr. Slinkard on his orthopedics practice and his road to Willmar in this video.