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Knaus, Roaring Fork Family Practice garner state recognition

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Longtime Carbondale doctor Gary Knaus was named Family Physician of the Year at the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians conference on April 13.

The award annually recognizes a Colorado family physician who provides outstanding care, enhances their community and is a role model both personally and professionally. In his nomination, fellow family physician Dr. Lauren Sontag wrote, “it is clear that he (Dr. Knaus) exemplifies what it means to be a family physician: a kind heart, an eager mind, and a listening ear, all with a deep commitment to the community.”

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Roaring Fork Family Practice, where he has worked for over 35 years, was additionally honored with the Patient Centered Innovation Award.

“Family medicine is a team sport these days,” Knaus told the assembly after receiving his award.

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With his wife, kids and grandkids looking on, he took the opportunity to tackle the challenges a somewhat old-fashioned profession — Knaus has been known to still make house calls — can face in the modern era. Despite the old “healer heal thyself” adage, he told the crowd that an informal poll at a past conference had revealed that 40 percent of attendees were burnt out and only two respondents were thriving.

“It didn’t seem right. We ought to be the healthy ones to take care of patients,” he said.

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So Roaring Fork Family Practice set out to change that through mindfulness, gratitude, and focus. They’re already seeing “palpable joy” from that work, but there are still challenges.

“Quality improvement has some unintended consequences. It’s all about money; it’s all about data… we’re not very motivated by that sometimes. My hypertension quality measures don’t do much to sustain me,” Knaus said. “We’re trained in an artisan manner — we learn humility, we learn patience, we learn excellence — and come out into a world where we’re made to feel like technicians. We came into this business thinking we were going to be working for the corner farm-to-table restaurant and woke up one morning working for the cheesecake factory.”

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Rather than give in or give up, however, he offered a solution.

“We need to recapture some of those final traditions. We need to understand what motivates us, what renews us, what keeps us doing this,” he said. “For me… it’s building relationships. We’re not just taking care of the next in line. In each office visit, we’re detectives, we’re gardeners, we’re teachers, we’re coaches, we’re friends and we’re servants. Those have got to be the things that feed us.”

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