It’s become harder and harder to be a physician in private practice these days, especially in primary care, as Dr. Mindy Blaski can attest. We chatted on the phone last month about her recent retirement. It wasn’t just about the challenges of the current health-care environment — she admits she’s reached retirement age.
Mindy didn’t always plan to be a doctor. Born into an Orthodox family in Budapest just after World War II — her parents survived Auschwitz (separately) — she struggled against their expectation to marry young to become the first in her family to go to college. She was majoring in Poli-Sci at Brooklyn College with “only one basic science class” on her transcript when she decided to go to medical school, adding two years of pre-med courses to her education.
“Sexism in medical school was still strong” in the 1970s, she remembers, but she forged ahead, fueled by idealism and “the feminist idea that women needed to be treated better in the health care system.” Twelve years of yeshiva education at Beth Jacob schools in New York also shaped her sense of justice.
After medical school at SUNY Buffalo, and a three-year family medicine residency at the University of California at Irvine, her husband’s love for the Pacific Northwest brought them to Seattle. Like many, “we came for a visit, saw Mt. Rainier on a beautiful sunny day,” and bought a house.
It was hard, she says, getting her career on track in a new town, and after a few years working for other practices, she decided to open her own in 1985.
Mindy loved seeing patients and helping people, but her practice became overwhelmed dealing with multiple health insurance companies and competing with larger organizations for staff recruitment.
“I tried to find alternatives to retiring, but I really couldn’t,” she says.
Hospitals and larger practices can hire full-time administrators to handle insurance paperwork “but most small groups can’t.” She calls this insurance company-imposed burden “way out of line… It’s all about their huge executive salaries,” and stock-holder profits, she says.
She points out that health insurers made their largest profits ever last quarter while primary care doctors are working harder to treat patients in less time.
“The American public is paying more and getting worse outcomes than other industrialized countries,” she adds.
Mindy’s unwillingness to give up the time she needed to spend with patients to provide the best care, “often caused long waiting times for patients and late nights for me.”
Although the doctor is “out,” Mindy is not completely retired. It takes time to close a practice and paperwork is still being processed. She serves on the board of the Western Washington chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhpwesternwashington.org) and continues to advocate for a single-payer system. She’ll do fill-in work for other doctors, too.
From the perspective of retirement, Mindy marvels at the trajectory of her life.
“From the ashes of Auschwitz,” she says, “that’s how I’m thinking of it.”
Although she left the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle in which she grew up, she says it was a “grounding” Jewish experience. Despite her father’s authoritarian nature, she was inspired by his determination to achieve a better life for his family, and by the work ethic of both her parents.
In addition to spending winter hiking and drying out in Tucson, and the knitting she’s always enjoyed, Mindy is an active member of Temple B’nai Torah, where she has found great support from the clergy and community, and learned to leyn (chant) Torah. Her husband Paul is the Northwest regional rep for the International Union of Roofers and Waterproofers. They have two grown daughters living in the Bay Area.
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Seattle attorney James Rogers was recently selected as “Outstanding Plaintiff’s Trial Lawyer” by the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers at the organization’s judicial reception in Oct. 2010. The WDTL’s members are 800 lawyers statewide engaged in civil defense litigation. Jim was nominated by his peers — other members of the organization — and final selection was made by the WDTL board.
Jim is not only a JT reader (or “Transcript” as he wrote, and we fondly remember), but a member of a multi-generational Seattle Jewish family. His great-grandfather Solomon Rogers was a founder of Temple De Hirsch in 1899.