Doug and Shelly Gruenbacher wanted to be small town physicians, wanted to experience the challenges of birth and death and life in between. They also wanted to practice in a town like the Kansas towns they’d grown up in.
“We wanted to care for people throughout their entire lives,” Doug Gruenbacher says. “That scope meant choosing to live in a smaller community.”
So as KU medical students, they chose to do their residencies in Quinter, in northwest Kansas. They loved the town. And when a shared spot opened there in 2002, the husband-wife team grabbed it.
“We do the whole gamut — pediatric care, nursing-home rounds, and being on call for the hospital,” Shelly said. “It’s the kind of thing you can’t do in a busier setting.”
Now the Gruenbachers are mentoring KU medical students on fourth-year rural rotation, helping them to see a future in rural primary care. Not all students come from small-town backgrounds, so the required rotation is a chance to explain the benefits of a tight-knit community.
“Sometime you’ll deliver a baby in the hospital and see the grandma in the clinic in a couple of days,” Shelly says. “Then you run into the mom and the baby at the grocery store. We take care of whole families. Students love that.”
“Doug and I are able to do what we do because people taught us,” Shelly adds. “It’s only right that we support others in the same way.”
The two KU alumni helped found the Castle Rock Wellness Center, a nonprofit health and fitness facility in Quinter that has around 300 members, and they have both served on its board of directors.
Both doctors grew up in Kansas towns of about 1,000 — Doug in Andale and Shelly in Stockton — which is why they wanted to raise their four children in a town of about the same size.
“It was important to be in a place where we could be available and be a part of our children’s lives,” Shelly says, “and I always felt pulled back to this part of the state.”