Dr. Kim Thiele stands by a wall of newspaper clippings and images of family members and precursors in his office near Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 21, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Dr. Kim Thiele stands by a wall of newspaper clippings and images of family members and precursors in his office near Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 21, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

‘A ministry for me’

Kalifornsky doctor wraps up career after 44 years

On the walls of Dr. Kim Thiele’s office on Kalifornsky Beach Road are mementos of a decadeslong career. Patches from his days working in emergency rooms in West Virginia hang alongside awards he earned as a family practitioner in Kenai. On one wall, he has photos of friends and patients that he’s known and worked with for decades.

It was at the age of 10, Dr. Kim Thiele said Tuesday, that he had a spiritual experience that led him to dedicate his life to medicine. He was working for his father, a physician himself, at the time.

“I kind of felt like God was saying to me ‘you see that man across the room there — you’re gonna do what he does for the rest of your life,’” Thiele said.

That 10-year-old would go on to attend medical school and ultimately spend roughly 44 years working in health care. He said he never considered doing anything else. Now 70 years old, Thiele is preparing to retire, stepping away from a profession that he dedicated his life to.

He spent his youth working in his dad’s office, where he said he got opportunities to learn.

“I worked as an orderly in the emergency room. I worked as an x-ray tech, an EKG tech, a respiratory therapy tech. I just went from one thing to another,” he said. “By the time I got to medical school, I pretty much knew how to do everything.”

It was in 1976 that Thiele attended medical school in Kirksville, Missouri. He was trained in osteopathy — which he described as largely comparable to a traditional M.D., but taking a focus on “mind, body and spirit.” He proudly said Tuesday that the college in Kirksville — now called A.T. Still University — was the first osteopathic medical school — that’s why he sought it out.

After graduating in 1980, Thiele spent roughly 20 years working in West Virginia, in the emergency rooms of three different hospitals. In the middle of that time, during the early ‘90s, he felt burnt out and took his family on a road trip. They came to Alaska and became enamored with it — “we vowed to come back.”

He did just that in 1999, taking a job in Anchorage — but he was on the Kenai Peninsula by 2001, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 2011, he opened his own practice, which he’s operated since — until a retirement planned for the end of March.

Working in family practice, Thiele said, “you develop a bond with these people.” To retire, he said, means to step away from those connections, that his patients will need to seek new practices — and that makes it difficult.

Closing out his books, Thiele says he has the records of around 40,000 people who have interacted with his office — that’s 40,000 lives he’s had the opportunity to touch. He described a family that he’s known since their eldest child was only 6 days old — now 23 years.

“This has been my passion for 44 years,” he said. “I’ve never come to work and not enjoyed doing what I do.”

Thiele credits that enduring passion to his faith. He says his strength, attitude and interest in helping people come from God.

“It was a ministry for me, not just a passion,” he said. “It’s gone very fast and it’s been a wonderful experience … it’s been very rewarding to do something for so many people.”

At 70 years old, Thiele says he feels he’s fulfilled that obligation, that he’s ready to slow down, and pursue some of the other passions in his life. He said he wants to spend time with his grandchildren, get his pilot’s license, and maybe do missionary work.

Any doctor a patient visits, Thiele says, probably knows their stuff. That’s what the credentials on the wall are for. It’s the caring and compassion for human beings that can set them apart.

“If there’s something different about me that’s good, then it’s God-driven,” he said.

He described medicine as a tradition, he said. He learned from his father. He proudly spoke of the way his nephew and daughter similarly pursued health care — both actively work in the field today.

“It’ll keep going on,” he said.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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