September 26, 2022
The Whole Person
Osteopathic principles inform incoming WSMA president Katina Rue's life philosophy.
By Milana McLead
Nestled on the desk amid numerous photos of Katina Rue's daughter, Valeria, and a sign that says "Mom: A title just above queen," rests a heart-shaped red glass paperweight. It's a shiny reminder of an experience that exemplifies Dr. Rue's approach to life, medicine, and community. It was her first year practicing medicine in Yakima, when a patient presented with gout at the after-hours clinic where she worked. Dr. Rue, an osteopathic family physician, listened to his heart, realizing that he had a "whopping loud heart murmur." She recommended an echocardiogram, which revealed a ruptured leaflet. Thanks to her attentive observation, his valve was repaired. Later, his wife brought her the glass heart, noting, "He was here for his toe. I don't even know why you listened to his heart. But if you hadn't, who knows where my husband would be now."
"That heart reminds me that it only takes a few moments to impact patients' lives," says Dr. Rue, "and that the time we spend with patients is a precious opportunity and privilege we have as physicians. It also grounds me in the need to be present with each and every patient."
It's an ethos that's integrated into everything she does, whether it's tending patients, teaching medical students and residents, caring for her family and community, or minding her five-acre farm.
Her colleagues see this in action. Nicole Austin is a program coordinator at Trios Health Family Medicine Residency in the Tri-Cities, where Dr. Rue serves as residency program director. "She is passionate about her role as an educator and community building," says Austin. "She's made a concerted effort to increase the collaboration between training programs and departments within the hospital. Although that can be challenging and at times frustrating, she has not backed down, realizing that the results will benefit not only our programs and organization, but ultimately and most importantly, the patients we serve."
Community, connectedness, and collaboration all played a role in Dr. Rue's journey. In middle school, she thought about heading into marine biology. High school prompted an interest in physical therapy. While shadowing physical therapists during her pre-PT studies at Western Washington University and later at Montana State University, she took note of the education and training they offered in biomechanics, physiology, and more, but felt their scope of practice was limited. After learning about osteopathic medicine, she switched to pre-med and applied to osteopathic medical school at Kansas City University in Missouri.
"What spoke to me about osteopathic medicine was the interconnectedness of the patient, the human condition of the mind, the heart, the body, the spirit, and that we are made in a way that structure and function are related," she says. "It's hard to be well when one aspect isn't—it's not only the physical aspect, it's the whole person."
While she enjoyed surgery, having grown up around the OR with her mom, as well as psychiatry, it was family medicine that felt like the best fit. "Seeing patients over time in multiple settings, getting to make connections with families, being there for the birth of a child and the passing of grandparents—holding that community and space to be together as a family was really amazing," she says. "When you have those relationships and you understand the different aspects of people's lives, it just made sense to me."
Getting involved in organized medicine was another aspect of community in her journey. In medical school, she saw her mentors modeling involvement in state and county medical associations. She stepped up, as well, serving as a student liaison between the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians and the Missouri State Medical Association, and as a student and resident member of the Johnson County Osteopathic Medical Society. When she moved to Washington state, it was a natural progression to join the WSMA and participate in its House of Delegates.
"It was naturally what I did when I got here, because I believe it's what you're supposed to do as a doctor," she says. "I wanted to continue to be part of the passion and commitment to communities, patients, and medicine that I saw modeled by my mentors." Once part of the WSMA, she was all in, helping to launch the early career governing councils and sections with Past-President Ray Hsiao, MD, and others, and later stepping into leadership. "For me, it's what you do to support your profession and to represent it in the best way in the eyes of the public. If you're not involved, if you're not at the table, then, as they say, you're on the menu."
Dr. Rue continues to be passionate about engaging younger physicians in the WSMA. As she looks to the year ahead, other interests include prior authorization, scope creep, social determinants of health, physician burnout, and physician workforce diversity. She is the co-chair of WSMA's newly formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and is an active participant in WSMA's Latinx Advisory Council. "WSMA's vision and mission can be bolstered by the development of a strong, diverse physician workforce that looks like, sounds like, and understands the patients they serve," she says. "For me, WSMA has been an open and accepting place to grow and be a voice for those who are less represented."
As she embraces her role as president of the WSMA, how will she lead? Her colleague Russell Maier, MD, offers a glimpse. "Dr. Rue is confident, a good listener, looks to the future, and is committed to the house of medicine," he says. "She is committed to community, learners, and improving patients' health." Just as she did for that patient with gout.
Milana McLead is WSMA’s senior director of strategic communications and membership.
Snapshot: Katina Rue, DO
Husband of 11 years, Aureliano, 10-year-old daughter, Valeria, and "unofficially adopted" 22-year-old Nataliya Frick and her 25-year-old brother, Anthony.
Lived in Pueblo, Colorado until her family moved to Washington when she was 11. Her mom is a retired operating room nurse and ran the OR in Port Townsend for almost 30 years. Her father was the director of pharmacy at Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles.
While Dr. Rue's adoptive mom is of Latino and Navajo heritage, her birth parents were also Latino (and Norwegian!). Dr. Rue's husband, Aureliano, is Mexican, although was born in Yakima, and has family in Mexico that they regularly visit.
Lives on five acres of farmland populated with five cows (Charlotte, Dixie Mae, Lia, Estrella, and Luna), five chickens, three beehives, a Yorkie named Storm, and 30 fruit trees (cherry, apricot, peach, pear, plum, walnut, and quince). Note: Blueberry the bull (who features in Dr. Rue's virtual Zoom background) recently moved to a ranch nearby.
WORDS TO LIVE BY
"Live like someone left the gate open!"
WHAT GETS HER UP IN THE MORNING
"Opportunities! I haven't always been the positive person. But now, in the face of daunting challenges, I see opportunities sprinkled like wildflowers."
Hearing people complain about things. "If you are a member, showed up, participated, and taken action—then maybe I'll listen to you complain." She wants to hear feedback, input, and solutions.
She'll be the first DO and the first Latina to serve as WSMA president.
Soccer mom, dance mom, farm wrangler, WSMA leader, Washington Osteopathic Medical Association leader, Washington Academy of Family Physicians alternate delegate to American Academy of Family Physicians, and past president of Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation.
This article was featured in the September/October 2022 issue of WSMA Reports, WSMA's print magazine.