Hard to say good-bye


Dr. Paul Nerothin ends 40-year run as local family physician



Clint Riese
News Editor

Over four decades in the medical field, Dr. Paul Nerothin has made plenty of tough calls. Ranking among the most difficult decisions was his choice to retire from Allina Medical Clinic as of last week after 40 years of caring for local families.

For Nerothin, last Friday was neither a celebration of reaching the light at the end of a tunnel, nor a means to explore other passions. In fact, the Marine on St. Croix resident predicted that his last day would be melancholy.

In 2011, he essentially made himself pick a day to hang up his stethoscope.

“Well, if I don’t make a decision to retire and maybe do something a little different with my remaining years I think I’d be here forever,” he recalls telling himself.

“There’s no end to the work, and I tell my patients it’s not that I’m just dying to get out of here, because I’m not.”

The Right Choice

Nerothin would call it a fortunate guess. The son of a Lutheran minister, he decided in junior high to pursue a career in medicine.

“I liked science and  enjoyed working with people,” he says. “It seemed to be a real attractive career with a lot of opportunity.”

A young Dr. Paul Nerothin poses with Nurse Bethann Sebastian and a baby they delivered during his early days as a family physician in Forest Lake. (Photo submitted)
A young Dr. Paul Nerothin poses with a mother and the baby he delivered during his early days as a family physician in Forest Lake. (Photo submitted)

He went from Robbinsdale High School to Gustavus Adolphus College. He graduated in 1967 and went on to medical school at the University of Minnesota. Nerothin worked construction in the summers to pay for his tuition at Gustavus, which totaled about $1,000 per year. He recalls medical school costing $100 per quarter.

He expected to be drafted for the Vietnam War, like so many of his fraternity brothers and medical school mates one year ahead of him. But fate intervened, the conflict ended, and he came to the Doctors Clinic in Forest Lake in 1973.

“I thought I’d try my hand at this family practice business and the rest is history,” Nerothin says. “I’ve never had the inclination to move out of Forest Lake.”

The clinic on 11th Avenue sat across from the hospital, and Nerothin’s arrival aligned with an exciting time in the industry.

In the early years, he was one of three doctors in town, and they were forced to be jacks-of-all-trades.

“It was fun. It was kind of like the wild, wild west,” he says. “You were able to do a lot and see a lot. It really was exciting times. I count those as being my best days.

“I could be in the clinic seeing patients then go deliver a baby and come back without missing a beat. Life was a little bit different then.”

With an influx of talent and knowledge, the clinic grew “almost exponentially” from the mid ’70s to the mid ’80s. New providers brought new energy in what Nerothin regards as a renaissance period.

The clinic sold to Health One (now Allina) in the early ’90s and moved to the current facility at 1540 S. Lake St.

The most significant change since then, Nerothin feels, is the rise of technology.

“For 36 or 37 years I’m carrying these big charts around, and then 1-2-3 switch, I’m on the computer,” he says. “But that just comes with the territory.”

Looking forward, the family practice field will be increasingly challenged by a shortage of doctors that is already noticeable, Nerothin believes.

“We are constantly recruiting, trying to get new blood, but it’s been hard,” he says. “People are just steering toward the more lucrative specialties.”

The problem will be exacerbated by a rise in demand as new federal health insurance policies come on line.

Even the local clinic may feel the effects in the not-too-distant future, as two of Nerothin’s colleagues are also members of what he calls the “old guard.”

An Empty Canvas

While the clinic and field and town transformed around Nerothin during his 40 years on the job, he says the most important aspect remains just as it was when he arrived in town as a wide-eyed rookie.

“It’s kind of like the more things change, the more they stay the same. What goes on in that exam room has been going on since day one,” he says. “The relationships with my people and my patients, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. That’s remained constant, and that’s the appeal.”

Open House
The public is invited to an open house for Dr. Paul Nerothin, who is retiring from Allina Medical Clinic after 40 years as a family practice physician. The event will be from 2:30 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29 at the clinic, 1540 S. Lake St. in Forest Lake. A short program will be at 4:30 p.m.

In his younger years, Nerothin enjoyed the aspects of family care that most related to his age, such as obstetrics. Such fields also happened to be practice-builders, and in recent years the father of three has enjoyed caring for the geriatric needs of many of the same patients.

“I’ve kind of grown old with a lot of my patients,” he said. “It’s been everything I’ve ever thought it’d be in that regard – taking care of people through life – and I’m not sure there’s any other specialty that really does that.”

As for the next stage of his own life, Nerothin has no set plans. He and his wife Julie, who works as a nurse in Woodbury, enjoy traveling but already have been doing so. Nerothin is a grandfather six times over and looks forward to spending more time in that role. For now, he is keeping his calendar open and planning to take it a day at a time.

“It’s not like I’m going to play 18 holes a day and go to Arizona [for the winter],” he says. “It’s kind of an empty canvas, and maybe that’s going to be good because it hasn’t been empty for 40 years.”