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A lifelong connection

Physician assistant Craig Maki will be retiring next week, after a 37-year career serving patients in SW Minnesota

Photo by Deb Gau Craig Maki, a physician assistant at Avera Marshall, pointed out some of the familiar faces in a picture of area doctors on the hospital’s history wall. Maki has worked in southwest Minnesota communities including Lamberton, Granite Falls, Tyler and Marshall since 1984. He will be retiring at the end of next week.

MARSHALL — One of the things about caring for patients in small communities is that you get to know a lot of people over time. Over his 37 years as a physician assistant, Craig Maki said he’s seen patients grow up, and even had patients continue to come see him through his whole career.

“I saw someone a couple weeks ago I first saw in Lamberton in 1985,” Maki said. It’s been a humbling experience to serve people in the region, he said. “It’s an honor to have people allow you into their lives for that long.”

Maki, PA-C, will be moving on to a new part of his life soon, although he said the decision was a hard one to make. He will be retiring — his last day at work at Avera Marshall Medical Center will be April 30.

“We are incredibly grateful for Craig’s long-term commitment to the health of the community and for his dedication to providing patients with personalized, compassionate care. We will miss him and we know his patients will too, but we are grateful for his service and wish him all the best in retirement,” said Avera Medical Group Vice President Bobbi Jo Vandendriessche.

Maki grew up in Menagha, graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and completed the physician assistant program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. But after that, he said, he knew he wanted to come back to Minnesota. He has worked in several southwest Minnesota communities, including Lamberton, Granite Falls, Tyler and Marshall. He and his family moved to Marshall in 1997, and he’s worked there full time ever since.

A lot has changed in the medical field since Maki started his career. Back in 1984, there were a lot fewer physician assistants and nurse practitioners, he said.

“I was one of two (physician assistants), probably, in all of southwest Minnesota,” Maki said. “You kind of had to earn your place in the world.” In the 1980s, physician assistants also had a different set of limits on what they could do for patients, compared to today. For example, when Maki started working PAs couldn’t write prescriptions.

Over time, the profession grew, as did the number of PAs working and their job responsibilities, he said.

Technology has made vast changes in medical care over the past few decades, Maki said. Advances in everything from medical imaging to cardiology and laparoscopic surgery have all changed health care providers’ work and outcomes for patients.

“All that stuff has taken off,” Maki said. But at the same time, technology has also made it easier to get chances to catch up on learning, he said.

“Some of the challenges are the same,” Maki said. For health care, “Rural access is still an issue.”

The fundamentals of Maki’s job have stayed the same through the years, too. Communicating with patients is still crucial.

“You listen for meaning,” and really try to make sure you understand what patients are telling you, he said. When working one-on-one with patients, “You get a chance to participate in a part of people’s lives in a way that’s special.”

It will be hard to leave, Maki said of retirement. But he said he and his wife plan to take some time to travel and spend time with their children.

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