Member Profile: Gretchen Karstens, MD, FAAP


Where did you grow up and complete your training? When did you know you wanted to become a pediatrician?

I am a Minnesota native, growing up outside of the small town of Carlton, MN. I went to Smith College in Northampton, MA for my undergraduate degree in psychology. I fell in love with science 2 weeks into my sophomore biology class and realized that I wanted more science in my life! Studying and practicing medicine seemed to be the best way to marry my interest in helping others with my love of science.

During my third-year rotations in medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI, I had internal medicine, surgery and then pediatrics as my first three rotations. I would come home feeling very tired and drained after the internal medicine and surgery days. When I got to pediatrics, I was tired but I had enjoyed playing with the kids and watching them explore their world. When I realized that working with kids gave me energy and fun in my day, I knew I would be a pediatrician.

Describe a typical day for you. What is one challenge and one advantage to seeing patients in the Duluth area?

I usually get to work between 8 and 8:30 a.m. to see babies in the nursery or round on patients at the hospital. My clinic day starts at 9 a.m. and my last patient is roomed at 4:10 p.m. Much of my day is full of well visits with some sick visits and medication checks thrown in to keep things interesting.

A challenge to working in Duluth is that we don’t have as many pediatric specialists available in town for our patients to see. It can present a big challenge for our patients to get down to Minneapolis or St. Paul for appointments. While there are fewer specialists up here, we know our fellow pediatric care providers pretty well and we have some specialists who have outreach clinics up here, which is very helpful. Medicine does happen in the frozen North!

A big plus to being in practice in Duluth is that there are many wonderful community partners who are eager to work with our practice. The Early Childhood Intervention teams and local mental health community partner with us to create wonderful circles of care. It is wonderful to hear that the ECFE educator recommended our group because of how we all work together or have a therapist refer a patient to me because I know that there will be a fruitful collaboration about the care of the patient.

Outside of seeing patients, describe your work with various collaboratives and initiatives aimed at improving pediatric health. What are you trying to accomplish and why?

The biggest collaboration that I have worked with is certification of our clinic as Minnesota Health Care Home. We started out with just my certification and then quickly spread to include all of the providers. This year we spread to include most of the primary care clinics in our health system!

I believe that incorporating patient- and family-centered care into the daily practice of medicine will provide the best care to our patients and their families. I want to have patients and families who feel empowered to take care of themselves, advocate for their concerns and needs, and enjoy a sharing of ideas with their medical team in which each party feels heard and respected. The basis of Health Care Home is patient- and family-centered care. We work hard to close the loop of care — checking in on patients after they have been seen in the ED, following up to make sure that referral appointments were kept and needs identified during those appointments are addressed, and reminding families when asthma action plans are due for updating. I believe that working as a health care team by partnering with our patients and their families provides the best hope for sustained optimal health for our children.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I don’t think that everyone realizes that I have a book addiction. Sometimes, I “sneak-read” (as in, I should be doing laundry, washing dishes, getting a kid into the tub… but I just need to finish this chapter!)

What hobbies or activities do you enjoy in your spare time?

I love baking. I try to make the bread we eat most of the time and I try to keep my cookie baking to less than once a week. I am a runner and enjoy the extensive running trails of Duluth as often as I can. I enjoy gardening and have trained my daughters to run out yelling and waving their arms if the local deer herds enter our yard. Mostly, I try to enjoy my girls; they are now 10 and 7 and growing quickly.

Annual Sponsors

Children's Minnesota
Gillette Children's
Hennepin Healthcare
University of Minnesota Health
Essentia Health
Mayo Clinic
Shriners Healthcare for Children-Twin Cities