Previous spotlight: Dr. Kathie Voigt

For Dr. Kathie Voigt and family, Shelby feels like 'coming home'

Kathie Voigt

Dr Kathie Horrace-Voigt is a 1986 University of Alaska Fairbanks alumna.  She has returned to Fairbanks each fall for the past three years to provide UAF students with insight into the processes of going from a four-year college through medical school, internships and residencies.  In October 2009, she held a workshop for the UAF Pre-Med Club and was also the guest speaker for a Leadership Program Luncheon cosponsored by the alumni office.

The following article is reprinted with the permission of the publisher, The Shelby Promoter and columnist Melanie Hoggan.

By Melanie Hoggan
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 3:00 PM MDT

When Dr. Kathie Voigt was eight years old she moved with her mother and brother to Anderson, Alaska, population 500.

Lost somewhere in the middle of a state known for it's remote landscapes and wilderness, her contact with the outside world came through her hobby of stamp collecting and from her mother, who held no boundaries about what a woman could accomplish.

In July of this year Voigt stepped down as Chief Resident as she completed her residency in Family Practice at Bay Area Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas and is now "coming home" to the rural lifestyle she knew growing up. However, this time she is Kathie Voigt, DO, the newest physician at Marias Healthcare Clinic.

After expressing an interest in practicing somewhere in the Northwest in a rural setting, Voigt was flooded with thousands of inquiries from under-served geographic areas throughout the entire U.S.

Dr. Voigt and her husband, Rex, went through a painstaking process to narrow the offers down to 100, then 40, and then 20 - six of which were in Montana.

"Rex set up phone interviews for me for the final 20-every half hour for one whole day. I was on rotations and in between patients I talked to each of the top 20. There were some that were easy to rule out. The opportunities most appealing to our family seem to always come back to Montana choices. I knew spring break was coming up with my kids and time for travel was short. I told the Montana recruiters you have a week to decide. They jumped at the opportunity and put all of us on a plane and flew us to Montana in March of this year," offered Voigt.

The Voigt family had scheduled interviews with clinics and hospitals in Great Falls, Helena, Choteau and Shelby.

"We interviewed in Shelby first. We really liked it. When we came here, I just felt like I was coming home; I felt that way from the beginning. The small town atmosphere, the people from the hospital and administration were all so down to earth. It was very emotional. It was an 'I have to be here' kind of feeling. I felt that way, Rex felt that way, the kids were so excited."

After making the rounds to other interviews across the state the Voigts settled on Marias Healthcare Clinic and the Hi-Line as the place they would make their new life.

Re-inventing a life is not something new to Voigt, in fact, she could be considered an expert. When her family moved to Alaska her mother, a certified electrician, master carpenter, airline pilot, seamstress, and cook, often with a 44 Magnum on her hip, decided they would build their own cabin.

"I had a Frontier mother, the ultimate Renaissance woman, who was out there with her rifle shooting moose and caribou for our food. We grew vegetables in the summer and went to town (80 miles away) about every three months. My mom's dream was to build her own log cabin and my brother and I spent most of our childhood peeling logs, cutting firewood, and hauling water for survival."

When Voigt was 25, circumstances left her homeless and living in a shack on the tundra with only an outhouse in the back. "I lived there for eight months until the snow fell because my first husband and I couldn't afford to pay rent at that time. It was made from plywood and from materials scavenged at the landfill... no water, no electricity, no phone, and no plumbing. I cooked on a Coleman stove and took a shower at the university or at work."

Dr. Voigt never winces when she shares her stories. In fact she wears them as a badge of honor, evidence of a life lived and challenges overcome.

Overcoming homelessness, poverty, and her mother's death, she made the move that for most would seem impossible - to apply to medical school. "I had received my B.S. in Biology in 1994 but knew I would have to go back to improve my grades. I did a post-back year in 1997 and started applying to med school. I knew it was a long shot but had nothing to lose."

She spent the next three years applying for acceptance, had her second child in the process and while laid up on bed rest and in the hospital studied for the Medical College Admission Test. Finding herself divorced and in her late 20s with two young children, 5 and 2, she applied, was denied, applied, was denied, and finally....

"I remember the day I got my acceptance letter to medical school. I had spent my last $500 for a plane ticket to go to Erie, Penn., do the medical school interview and come back. I was literally down to my last $100. The letter said you have two weeks to come up with $1,500 to hold your spot in your class - a month's worth of pay."

Voigt continued, "It was impossible, I had two kids to feed. I was fortunate to work at the hospital and I called one of my friends who is a doctor. He said come to the house, I have it here and I will loan it to you."

Another friend, Dr. Linda Garcia from Fairbanks, Alaska, was not only a mentor to Voigt, but her champion and friend.

"Before I left she gave me a card and said open it when you get to your new house. Lost among the boxes in the move, it reappeared after we got to Erie. Rex and I were literally down to our last reserves; he was struggling to find work and the student loan checks didn't come for another three weeks. We opened Linda's card; inside was a check for $1,000. We never cried so hard in our lives, it was unbelievable. Every Christmas and birthday she would send $500, $1,000; I don't know how we would have gotten through without her generosity and faith in us," shared Voigt.

Dr. Garcia met Voigt in 1995 at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital where Voigt worked as a Ward Secretary. Garcia was struck by Voigt's uncanny memory, her ability to not only remember, but to accurately apply information, along with her scrappy attitude of overcoming challenges.

"She has a tremendous memory, I like to play trivia and asked her one day who Cecil Rhodes was; she knew it. No one else knew who he was. That was one of her demonstrations of what a tremendous memory she has. In medicine you have to know many things. She has a great memory for facts and takes that information and puts it to good use."

Though her path to D.O. is not the typical story, Voigt believes her strengths as a physician lie in her life experiences. "I know what it is to struggle. I just know. I didn't come from a family of doctors. I didn't come from wealth. It doesn't bother me to cry. I can relate to just about everyone because I have been down that road."

Dr. Garcia, an M.D. with a specialty in Internal Medicine who also performs Orthopedic surgery, believes Voigt's contribution lies in her training as a D.O (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). "D.O.'s have the skill in their hands to realign the body and to enhance the body flow by manual therapy. The DO and the Osteopathic manual manipulation they provide can enhance the quality of life for people who are ill and need help. She brings to your community the ability to address the physical ailments plus the concept of the holistic approach as a D.O.; it makes her an outstanding addition to any community," said Garcia.

Twenty-one years since she first enrolled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as an undergraduate, Dr. Voigt's journey has come full circle with a new chapter opened. "It is so amazing. It's been 20 years of dreaming, struggling and working. We finally made it! I started med school at 32, poorer than dirt - with nothing. When I moved to Erie I had never even driven on the interstate before. I wanted this for me, as well as my children."

A Renaissance woman all her own, Dr. Voigt sums it up by saying, "My practice will be shaped by my personality as I have a hard time believing that I would ever let someone else dictate my future. It hasn't happened yet."

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