On his first day of residency, Tim Dykstra ’91, M.D., arrived at the ER at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines to see his first patient ever: a six-month-old infant. The baby died of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). When
Dykstra finally made it home about 2 a.m., he went immediately to see his own six-month-old son. He sat in the baby’s room and just watched him breathe.
That was the first of many long, mentally-demanding nights as a doctor, but Dykstra has weathered them all with aplomb and saved many lives along the way. Dyskstra married his junior year at Central and had his first child during his final year in medical school. Then, as a second-year resident in Des Moines, his second child was born. Dykstra says he never would have been able to tolerate the energy-sucking stress without his wife. “Thankfully, she is wonderful and strong and able to put up with it.”
After spending 10 years as a physician in Fort Madison, Iowa, Dykstra moved his family to Pella five years ago. Now he works in both occupational health and the emergency room at Pella Regional Heath Center (PRHC). Although certified in family practice, these new realms have become his specialties.
As a self-described adrenaline junkie, Dystrka loves the on-pins-and-needles electricity of the ER. “You never know what you’re going to see and who will come through the door,” he says. “You do the best you can, which is the fun of it.”
But occupational health is more family-friendly, which is a big plus with four kids at home. Although a sucker for thrills, Dykstra is also a people person, and he loves meeting patients as he treats work-related injuries and gives re-employment physicals. For 32 hours during the week, he serves patients out of PRHC and the satellite clinic in Newton.
But every other weekend, he is back for the roller coaster ride of a 24-hour ER shift. And the long hours pay off. “In the ER, you end up making a big difference,” he says. People often approach him later to say thank you for saving their lives or a family member’s.
Dykstra has been interested in medicine since he was a kid. As a 10-year-old visiting his sick grandmother, he told his parents he loved the hospital. Not surprisingly, they thought he was nuts.
Still, his doctor dreams seemed far-fetched until Dykstra came to Central his freshman year. With good grades piling up, his advisor urged him to plan for medical school. He took history classes for fun, majored in biology and minored in chemistry. He says Central prepared him well for the MCAT, the exam required for med school applications.
Dykstra spent so much time studying at Central that he missed out on going abroad and doing service work. But as an adult, he has gone on numerous humanitarian missions—treating the ill and helping to install clean water systems—in Mexico, Liberia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Burma. He even adopted two daughters from Liberia.
The mission trips—along with his family life and his hobby of triathlons—are a testament to the boundless energy of a man who loves his work. “I always knew it was for me, and it’s what I was led to do. In hard moments, you have to keep looking forward. It helps that I’m an internal optimist.”
Q&A with Tim Dykstra ’91, M.D.
Q: What were your thoughts when you walked across the stage at med school graduation?
A: A great sense of relief. It was a good feeling to graduate from Central; it was an even better feeling to graduate from medical school. You’re excited about what you’ve done but apprehensive about what’s in front of you.
Q: What are the workplace dynamics like in the ER?
A: When you’re in the ER, you really have to work as
a team.You have to treat each other well. Everyone needs to be team players.
Q: You said that you expect the ER to get dramatically busier. Why is that?
A: If it doesn’t cost people to go to the ER anymore, then they will use it like a primary caregiver. We are already seeing more of that. Also, there is a shortage of primary caregivers. Pella is pretty blessed because we have a lot of those doctors. We are starting to see many more patients from surrounding areas that have a lack of primary care physicians.