FORT BRANCH — Heath Kohlmeier received his first hug from a patient Tuesday, a small testament to the relationships he hopes to build with patients in his new role as a nurse practitioner at Tulip Tree Family Health Care.
"One of my patients told me that I reminded her of her son. We just had a good interaction in the room there," Kohlmeier said. "She asked if she could give me a hug at the end. It was a small victory within me, I feel like that's one of those signs you've reached out to that patient, that you've built that connection and can start going from there."
Kohlmeier is a Mackey native and after completing his undergraduate degree at Indiana University and masters degree at Vanderbilt University, he knew he wanted to find a way to work close to home.
Family is a big priority in his life, and he knew he wanted to work and live close to them.
"I have a new little nephew, he's going to be two March 1," he said. "I wasn't going to move away and not be a part of that."
Kohlmeier completed about 300 hours of clinicals at Tulip Tree and when his graduation and an opening at the clinic corresponded, executive director Allison Williams said they knew they wanted to bring him in for an interview.
"(During his clinicals) we had very good feedback from our patients who got to see him and got to meet him and interact with him," Williams said.
When Kohlmeier came in for the interview it ended up being an instant fit.
"What struck everybody, and Heath still keeps saying it and it's the best part of him, he really is interested in the patients and he wants to form those relationships," Williams said. "We just talked about that today, those relationships are what facilitate healing and what makes a difference in a community like this."
Those interactions and relationships with patients are what led Kohlmeier down the route to nurse practitioner instead of another path in the medical field.
He said after doing some research and shadowing, it seemed nurse practitioners were able to grow their relationships with patients more.
It's also what led him to family practice as opposed to critical care where there can be a chance for less communication with a patient. He said he's able to sit down and talk to patients about what will work best for them.
"In medicine, there's no concrete algorithm that tells you how to treat everything," Kohlmeier said. "That's kind of what makes it interesting."
His exact path was discovered after some exploration as he got older, but the medical field became his goal when he was in elementary school.
In 2001, Kohlmeier's mom had a pacemaker put in and at one point she had a faster than normal heart rate that went well above 200 beats per minute. She was rushed to the hospital, followed by Kohlmeier and his sisters.
They were worried, but there wasn't anything the kids could do.
"Once we got to the hospital the medical team that was in the room knew exactly what to do and how to fix it and everything was calm again," Kohlmeier said. "At that time, I thought that was really neat and wanted to learn more to put myself in a position where I wouldn't have to be worried like I was then."
Now, Kohlmeier is finishing up his second month with Tulip Tree, close to home and focused on building relationships.
Prospective patients can contact the clinic at 812-753-1039.