Northeast spotlight :: A personal approach to medicine

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February 15, 2010 // UPDATED 8:31 am - February 15, 2010
By: Lana Walker
Lana Walker
Dr. Sam Willis, known fondly by patients as Dr. Sam, is not your average physician. He greets patients at his desk near the front door. He checks in with patients he’s seen earlier that day or week. And in place of a waiting room, he has an art gallery that changes every two months.  

Willis is dedicated to changing the relationship between primary care physicians and patients, allowing for more communication between the two, and more input and decision-making from the patient. He believes everyone has a right to continuous health care, and has built his practice to serve those who are unable to afford health insurance or who are minimally covered.

After working with both Fairview and Park Nicollet, Willis wanted to do something different, and opened his practice in August 2009 at 1300 Quincy St. NE.  Patients can obtain membership or schedule one-time visits, and either choice delivers thorough, affordable care.

Willis recently spoke with the Downtown Journal about his practice and the values that guide it.

DTJ: What is the primary goal of your practice?

Willis: It sounds generic, but it’s to provide high-quality, affordable care for people who have ongoing health needs and limited access to health insurance. As a board-certified family medicine doctor, there is a fund of knowledge that I have to have in order to practice my profession, but there is also the softer side of medicine about how you implement that knowledge and practice that care. It’s really focusing on developing a relationship with my patients and responding to their needs. When I hear people saying, ‘I really want to learn to ballroom dance,’ well that’s a great physical activity, so maybe I’ll put it together. When I say quality, it’s relating to care that is of a personal nature.

How are you working to better the doctor-patient relationship?

There are three ways for a patient to communicate with me. That’s very directly addressing one of the challenges that I felt in other practice settings. Along with that, I have opened this office starting with electronic records. I’ve tried to use those records to facilitate better note taking. I provide the patient with their health information and it’s saved in the exact same way in my record, so I know what kind of things I need to focus on with them.

Also, a lot of things come up that are really personal issues. Whether it’s something little like offering a glass of water or sitting in a comfortable space, the aspect of feeling comfortable here is something I hope I’ve achieved. I’m also very conscientious about following up. If something comes up that requires me to call and answer a question or to put somebody in contact with another specialist, I make sure I do that.

Are there other doctors out there that are like-minded in your practice’s values with under-insured patients in mind?

I have found, fortunately, quite a pleasant response from specialists in recognizing the challenges that people who don’t have health insurance are facing. When care gets outside of my capacity, I need to rely on specialists and, overwhelmingly, they have been really supportive, particularly the surgical specialists. It’s been my experience that we, as physicians, all got into health care to help people when it boils down to it. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a physician that sees someone in great need and says, ‘No way.’

What is the significance of the gallery in your practice?

It’s a bit of an experiment to combine two of my professional interests, art and medicine, both of which have their own value in describing and promoting a healthy life. They both can provide insight, raise questions, and promote thought and action that can lead to a healthier life. There’s also a small part of the gallery that’s fulfilling the role of simply bringing art to the everyday life.

The space itself is also intended to be used as an event space. We’ve done two programs in January that were the kickoff to what we’re calling Member’s Circle Events. One of those programs is a yoga series that’s on Wednesday evenings and is geared toward all levels of experience and health.

What’s your favorite part of doing what you’re doing?

There’s so many things I love about what I’m doing. I’m really proud to be pushing myself as a doctor to not just react when health goes wrong but to facilitate maintaining and promoting health even when it’s pretty good. I love the moments when someone walks in the door, clearly with a health care need that has not been met, and I am able to meet that need and feel really good about the care that I’ve provided. And when that happens, I always say to my office manager with a big smile on my face, ‘That was good medicine!’


Doctor Sam
Where: 1300 Quincy St. NE