Honoring Kate Christensen, MD

I sometimes tell secrets on this blog about me, and one is that I have never been to a retirement celebration in my entire life. I guess I waited for the most special one :).

Yesterday was the first full day at Kaiser Permanente without Kate Christensen, MD, who was the Medical Director of kp.org, one of the world’s most successful personal health records ever. Kate is known locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally for her work. From the comments at the celebration and from my own life experience, it’s easy for me to say what differentiates Kate – she is an amazing doctor. Who is also a leader.

Kate and I go back about 12 years, when we were both attached to similar projects in sibling organizations. If you are ever as lucky in your life to be involved in something that has never been done before, and then to meet someone who shares your DNA in an organization with the same mission and values, you will know the feeling I have.

Waaaaay before meaningful use several of us were creating the role of medical director for a web site in health systems. There was no precedent for this role. I’ll go far to say that at times, we didn’t even believe such a role should exist, or that we deserved to have it. And yet, our leaders said it should, and they were right.

The thing about being in this role is that it is not  “I am in charge of this, I own this, people will follow my lead,” that would be a recipe for failure. Instead it is, “I am a part of this, it is not mine, I need to collaborate with anyone and everyone who will talk to me, because I will be spending most of my time listening.” 

It’s like a proxy for being a physician in general.

Kate is generally unflappable, has an extremely high humility/experience ratio, and isn’t afraid to ask for help. She knows how to laugh and she knows what it means to put members/patients first. 

Throughout my journey, Kate was on the end of a telephone receiver with me (once I figured out what her phone number was, she was also the Medical Director of the Martinez Hospice Program), or on my right or left side for a walk through name-your-city. 

Kate also founded her medical group’s ethics program, and this is important, when I didn’t know what was right sometimes (and the goal is always to do what’s right by our members), Kate served as reaffirming counsel and she didn’t hesitate in empowering me. 

Another secret about me is that it’s sometimes better to aim me than manage me, and Kate served as a continual spark to make sure that members/patients were part of health information technology, not a sideline to it. Our organizations followed in each others’ footsteps for quite some time and soon her organization’s accomplishments outpaced ours, and we were glad. This meant that this was the right thing for patients everywhere.

Speaking of the right thing for people, Kate celebrated diversity and was instantly easy to connect with – she was one of the people who welcomed me into a new era of the medical profession, where everyone has the opportunity to achieve regardless of their background, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity. It just wasn’t an issue for Kate, when for many people it was an issue, and she helped many people soar, myself included.

At the celebration itself, there were many stories about how Kate was there for people. She was there for me. She shaped my career, she changed my life. That is what a doctor does.

The generation of physicians that Kate has led are continuing on the mission we started to involve members and families in their health and health care. She’s created physicians, too- her daughter is now in residency, completing her training to be an amazing physician as well.

Speaking of diversity, Kate always talks about how she belly dances to relax, and so I finally got to see her in action. Which is where she’s always going to be in my mind.

13 thoughts on “Honoring Kate Christensen, MD”

  1. Ted, you did a great job capturing the event.
    We will miss Kate! 
    I’ve been with Kaiser for 25 years, 10 as an HIV educator and nearly 15 at KP.org.  Kate has been so influential to everything I have done at KP.
    I experience first hand how important her leadership, counsel and guidance was to my work on KP.org’s online communities from 1999-2007 and health assessment and heatlh behavior change programs on KP.org. 
    I learned at the dinner, that her leadership was instrumental to my HIV work as well.  One of the reasons she started the N. CA ethics committee was to ensure that members got adequate counseling when offered an HIV test back in the day.  That was a major focus of my work as an HIV educator.
    One thing I will add that got passed over Tuesday night was Kate’s stint as a TV celebrity.  She was the medical correspondent for the SF Bay Area local new affiliate, KTVU.  So, Dr. Oz, eat your heart out–Kate did it first and better. 
    Kate, we will miss you at Kaiser, but the work you have done will live on and inspire KP’s work for generations.  Thanks for being a visionary and just such a fun person to be around.

  2. Thanks Ted, for such a great review of Kate!  What a wonderful party it was.  So many people had heartfelt stories about Kate. 
    For my story, not only was she an amazing advisor and partner for many projects on kp.org that I’ve worked on for the past 8 years, but she helped me love belly dancing at a time when not only did I need a friend but also the freedom that dance brings with it.  I’m going to miss her so much!
    You’re tribute is wonderful and I love the pictures, too!

  3. ReginaHolliday I’m wearing my #TheWalkingGallery jacket to #TEDMED next week. Thank you and buckets of glitter. Will you be there?

  4. ReginaHolliday tedeytan thank you Regina for reminding me that I’m still a part of Kaiser Permanente, just a different part.

    1. katethamina I love you. I love the amazing spark within your eyes. It was my honor to remind you. tedeytan

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