For the past 12 years, Dr. Kim Farrell has cared for countless Islanders — the majority of them women — at the Vashon Health Center. She’s seen some of them through difficult diagnoses, come late at night to tend to emergencies, helped others find ways to live healthier lives.
She’s enjoyed the practice immensely, she said. But both the hours and the increasing reams of paperwork have proved frustrating to Farrell. A woman with a range of interests — she started out her professional life as a singer and an actress — Farrell has decided to take a break from what has proven to be a demanding career.
Her last day at the bustling clinic at Sunrise Ridge is next week. After that, Farrell, 53, plans to visit the Southwest, a part of the country she loves, take stock of her life and decide what’s next.
The decision was a difficult one, she said, “because of the sense of responsibility I feel and the fact that I really love and enjoy the people I work with.”
But after years at what she called “a clinic in a country setting,” where she has to be on call one night a week, she said she feels a need for a break.
“I’m taking some time to reassess and re-evaluate and to see if there’s a way I can continue in medicine in a more sustainable way,” she said.
Rita Cannell, who manages the clinic, said it will be hard to lose Farrell. “She’s a very popular female physician,” she said. Nearly 90 percent of her patients are women.
The clinic, which is a part of Highline Medical Group, has been assigned a temporary physician, Dr. Melissa Negretti, a Highline doctor who lives in North Seattle and who has agreed to commute to Vashon for as long as six months, Cannell said. The clinic, meanwhile, has already started searching for a doctor to replace Farrell, but the process will take some time, Cannell said. The clinic’s most recent addition, Dr. Jeffrey HansPetersen, took two years to find.
What’s more, she said, Farrell has held a special place at the clinic. “It’ll be hard to fill her shoes.”
Farrell comes from a family of doctors; four generations of men before her were ophthalmologists. But she didn’t embark on the path of medicine as a young woman. Her undergraduate degree was in music, and she spent five years as an actor and singer, including walk-on parts at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and touring as part of a two-person act.
But she was struggling to make a living, she said. “And I felt like I wanted more meaning in my life.”
So after two years of evening pre-med courses, she entered University of Minnesota’s medical school at age 32.
She discovered Vashon Island during her residency at Swedish, when the hospital held a retreat at Camp Sealth. “I remember when we drove onto the Island thinking, ‘Oh, how come we didn’t know about this little gem?’”
When she was ready to begin her practice, she sent a letter to the Vashon Health Center, which had just lost two popular doctors, a couple named Mary and John Hoagland. She said she recalls walking into the clinic for an interview and being greeted by huge smiles.
“I thought, ‘This is the right place.’”
Farrell and her husband John Cornelison moved to Vashon and over the years have become active members in the community. Farrell sings in the Vashon Island Chorale and occasionally in the Vashon Opera; Cornelison, a software engineer, is active in VashonBePrepared. Both are talented photographers.
Farrell sat in a crammed office at the health center as she talked, wearing her customary silver bangles, her long hair nearly covering the stethoscope around her neck.
Her practice has been full and meaningful, she said. What she’s most enjoyed, she said, has been the long-term relationships she’s developed with patients whom she’s seen over time, people she often runs into at the grocery store, the farmers market or some Island event.
“You get to see someone as a whole individual,” she said.
But even with a part-time schedule, she estimates she works 70 hours a week. Particularly difficult has been the weekly call schedule — one night a week when she sometimes finds herself up most of the night, seeing patients in an otherwise empty clinic. “It’s no picnic,” she said.
She may return to medicine, she added, but she’s far from certain. Meanwhile, she plans to enjoy her passion for photography, travel, hiking and other outdoor activities. Though she’s headed to the Southwest for a stretch, she hastens to add that she and Cornelison aren’t moving. Her nephew, she said, is calling her excursion “a walk about.”
“It’s time,” she said. “I need to make a change.”