She is a doctor

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Dr. Michele Dikkers

Throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, the Times-Register is again publishing a series of articles highlighting local women. Whether it’s through their careers, hobbies, volunteer efforts or unique personalities, these women have inspired others.


By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Michele Dikkers learned early on that, as long as you try, there’s very little you can’t do.


“Even if I’d get frustrated, my dad would say, ‘Yes, you can,’ until I did it,” she recalled.


That attitude has served Dikkers well as she went from a small farm near Strawberry Point to college and medical school, and eventually a career as a primary care provider with Guttenberg Municipal Hospital and Clinics.


Dikkers grew interested in the medical field at a young age, inspired by the family provider, Dr. Thompson, as well as medical TV shows like M.A.S.H.


“I always knew I liked taking care of people. But it was not just caring for an illness or a disease, but being compassionate and making it a whole body experience,” she said.


Dikkers became an EMT and worked as a CNA during her undergraduate studies at Central College in Pella. It gave her practical experience heading into medical school at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her residency at Des Moines General Hospital in Des Moines in 1998, then returned to Clayton County. 


Practicing rural medicine was never a question for Dikkers. 


“There’s nothing more lovely than northeast Iowa,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to find somewhere that was looking for a provider. I’ve been here 25 years.”


Dikkers said she’s been blessed with great mentors during that time—including providers, nurses and other staff.


“You’re only as good as those who work with you. You can’t do it without the lab, radiology, housekeeping,” she said. “I’m blessed to be here in this welcoming place. It’s an honor to be allowed to take care of people and have people trust you to take care of them. Sometimes, you take that for granted.”


Even after 25 years, Dikkers admitted medicine still elicits nerves and excitement. Even overwhelming feelings.


Part of that, she said, is because medicine is always changing. Patients are more complicated, and providers are able to diagnose more things and treat more things than even five or 10 years ago.


“We’re constantly taking classes and keeping up on that. It’s lifelong learning,” Dikkers said.


Technology has also played a part. CT and MRI services are more available than when she began practicing, and X-rays are taken digitally. Lab work is more accessible, and so are electronic medical records. 


The latter, said Dikkers, is both a blessing and a curse. 


“It’s easier to share information when appropriate, but the documentation itself takes longer. The number of requirements by Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies doubles time,” she explained.


But, for Dikkers, medical care is still largely about having conversations with patients on their best options.


“That’s an interesting thing I’ve seen change. The generation before me wanted doctors to tell them what to do. I learned you should talk with the patients about their options. Recommend, but they have to decide to do it,” she said.


In addition to her role with Cornerstone Family Practice, Dikkers is a diplomate in the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians and medical director of the Guttenberg Care Center. She’s also served on the Clayton County Board of Health for over 15 years, and is currently the chairperson.


The board is made up of volunteers who are appointed by the Clayton County Board of Supervisors.


“It’s a good group, and we all bring a different perspective, which is important. We keep an open mind when topics come up,” Dikkers said.


Dikkers noted many in the community didn’t know she served on the board of health until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, she and group were not only thrust into important decisions to keep county residents safe, but she had to communicate the latest news through an often weekly press release.


According to Dikkers, medical professionals had discussed the potential of a pandemic since 2010. Pandemics usually come around every 100 years, and the latest was in 1918.


But she—and others—didn’t expect the multi-faceted impact of COVID-19.


“It’s been exhausting in so many different ways. Treating the disease itself is the easy part. The bigger challenge was fighting misinformation. That made our jobs harder,” Dikkers said.


The other piece that made it difficult was that mental and physical exhaustion prompted many people to leave the medical world. That was at the same time as the Baby Boomers were retiring, leading to shortages of providers, nurses and other staff, noted Dikkers.


She acknowledged some aspects of the pandemic were rewarding: new technology helped medical professionals save lives, people came together to help patients who were critically ill and companies worked in concert to develop vaccines. Even insurance companies eased restrictions on where patients could be transferred.


“People came together for a common goal. And we learned a lot—that we can take on anything,” Dikkers said. “Now, in a lot of ways, we’re back to normal.”


Moving forward, Dikkers hopes others find rural medicine as rewarding as it’s been for her.


“In a rural community, you can see the difference you’re making and be part of that community,” Dikkers said. You have more autonomy and direct patient care—“less like a cog in a wheel than you might feel in a larger city or institution.”


She compared a community to the human body.


“The human body is an incredible thing. You eat your supper and your body is able to turn that into bone, blood, fingernails. Everything has its place. It’s the same in a community,” Dikkers explained. “It takes all of us to make it work. A community without medical care doesn’t thrive. I hope to keep the rural area thriving.”


Dikkers feels that even more as a primary care provider. While some medical professionals are involved with patients for a short time, she sees the whole journey.


“I’m not just a bystander or observer who never knows how the story ends,” she said. “You work with newborns, children, young adults, adults, the elderly. That’s what makes it challenging. There’s not much chance of getting bored.”


From one day to the next, Dikkers could help someone with a broken hand, sew up a laceration, treat a child with strep or an individual with diabetes, complete a student physical or talk with a 90 year old about hospice. 


“I enjoy doing all of it,” she said. “Even the days when you have to give bad news, it’s good to be there and help them navigate through those challenges. There’s satisfaction in helping people through the tough times and being able to give back in meaningful ways.”

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