The plaques on his wall say he’s an accomplished physician – double board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics and a Fellow of both the American College of Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics. But to his patients, Steven Mattson, MD, is simply “Dr. Steve” or just plain “Doc.”
“All the Heritage Singers just call me Doc,” he laughs.
A warm and approachable nature and a good ear for listening have earned him rock star status among his patients. “He makes you feel like he really cares about you,” said one patient. No doubt he’ll be sorely missed following his decision to retire after 36 years of practice. “I’m 68 years old and Joy and I kind of want to travel more,” he explained, noting, “I’m semi-retired already.”
The thought of hanging up his stethoscope for good hit him earlier this year when he decided to take a month off. “I did all kinds of projects around the house that had never been done, and by the end of the month Joy and I were riding our bikes, and she stopped and said, ‘You know honey, it’s been good having you around. We got a lot done this month.’ When she said that I thought, it’s time to retire.”
According to Mattson, the open and welcoming approach to care that’s he’s known for is something he partially picked up while working on his medical degree at Michigan State University.
“In medical school they told us to let patients talk, but on the average when you walk into a room and sit down, you let the patient talk for 15 seconds and then you interrupt them and move on. Well, you can’t find out anything about somebody if you don’t let them talk. I try to let my patients explain to me why they’re there and what’s going on. And they all say, ‘Steve, you listen, and that’s what we love about you’.”
The terms “art” and “science” are frequently used to describe the essence of medical practice.
According to Mattson, the art is being able to translate medical jargon into something people understand. “I don’t want my patients to leave here and not know what’s wrong with them and what we’re going to do for them.”
Among his other habits: “I never wear a white coat because it scares kids. I always wear normal clothes.”
It’s hard to imagine Dr. Mattson as anything but a physician, but there was a time when becoming a doctor wasn’t on his radar. In high school, students were encouraged to think about their path in life. Mattson thought he’d like to do something to help people such as becoming an ambulance professional. But being raised in the family that owned Mattson Construction turned his attention to engineering. Then one day while looking out his dorm window at the University of North Dakota, he saw a large crane. “I looked at that crane and thought, maybe I could go on and do something else; I changed from engineering to medicine and never looked back.”
As he approached graduation from medical school, he considered various fields of specialty. By chance, a residency program had just been established in Baltimore in Med-Peds, a unique specialty that combines internal medicine and pediatric medicine. Dr. Mattson completed the program and became board certified in both specialties. It’s a path he never regretted.
“It turns out I love seeing families and grandparents and parents and kids and following them in what we call longitudinal healthcare. It’s been glorious for me to be a primary care guy.”
Just as he didn’t always plan on becoming a doctor, he didn’t anticipate practicing in his hometown. “I knew I wanted to go to the Midwest, but I didn’t think Minot was going to be the place,” he said. During his last year of training, St.
Joseph’s Hospital was forming an HMO and needed a neonatologist/pediatrician. Mattson’s mother encouraged her son to apply. A final nudge came when Dennis Lutz, MD, professor and chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at UND and a longtime Minot physician, flew to Fargo where Mattson was at the time. “We had dinner together and he kind of told me to plan to come to Minot,” Mattson chuckled. Practicing in the town he grew up in has been a delight, i.e., being close to family, maintaining longtime relationships and participating in activities like the Heritage Singers, the men’s chorus that endearingly calls him “Doc.”
Much has changed in medicine since his earliest days of practice. Dr. Mattson recalls seeing patient charts of Richard Dormont, MD, the longtime Minot pediatrician. “There were two lines of documentation; patient was seen, ear was red, antibiotic prescribed, and that’s it; that was the end of dictation. Now I spend 50 percent of my time in documentation. That’s been the big change.”
Although he went kicking and screaming into electronic health records, Dr. Mattson quickly came around. “I liked the big thick chart, but within a week the computer was the better option, and now that’s the only way to go.”
Mattson says both he and his wife, Joy, plan to keep a foot in the door of medicine by volunteering at a free clinic near their home in Florida. They’ll return to Minot from time to time, and he’ll never forget about his patients in Minot. “Those are the moments I’m going to miss the most,” he said. “For me, it’s all about my patients; my patients are my friends. I care about what happens to them.”