Rebecca Whitesell, M.D., has seen much of the U.S. “My dad worked for the National Parks Service when I was growing up, and we moved all over the place,” Whitesell explains. Now a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center (operated by MultiCare Health System), she attended high school in Texas and stayed in the state to attend Texas Christian University, where she majored in pre-med.
Her decision to study medicine stemmed from personal experience. She explains, “When I was young, I was a pretty serious dancer. Unfortunately, I also had several injuries. I had an orthopedic surgeon that I really liked. I thought what he did was really cool. That’s how I got truly interested in medicine.”
She earned a master’s of public health at the University of North Texas before heading to medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Whitesell then stayed in the South for her residency at the University of Alabama and completed fellowships in Atlanta.
When she started interviewing for jobs, she wanted a new experience. “I interviewed and immediately fell in love with the people in Tacoma. It was really the right time for me, coming out of residency. I liked the setting, and I was very drawn to what I’d be doing and who I would be working with.”
She also liked the surroundings. “I can look at Mount Rainier right outside of our operating room,” Whitesell raves. And according to Matt Wakefield of Travel Tacoma + Pierce Country, the mountain is a big part of the Tacoma experience for everybody who visits.
“When you come to the area, if you’re flying in, you’ll see Mount Rainier,” he says. “It’s iconic. It’s the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. You can see it from Seattle. Whenever the clouds part even a little bit, the mountain is front and center. A phrase people say is, ‘Oh, is the mountain out today?’ It means, ‘Did the clouds part enough?’ When you see it, it looks magnificent.”
Wakefield says the mountain provides plenty of space for recreation. “There are 130 hiking trails on the mountain. There is snowshoeing in the winter. It was named the No. 1 place in the country to view wildflowers.”
Another popular Tacoma destination for outdoor activities is Five Mile Drive. Says Wakefield: “It’s this five-mile stretch of roads with views of the Puget Sound. On the weekends, it’s closed until early afternoon so people can go running. There are lots of people here who are really into the outdoors and fitness, and we have an infrastructure that supports them in that.”
It makes sense that the Tacoma population is health-conscious. After all, health care companies are major area employers. Amber Bishop, a recruiter for MultiCare Health System, says, “MultiCare is a not-for-profit organization with more than 11,000 employees. The employee population is spread through two counties, staffing 120 sites of care.” MultiCare has five hospitals, each of which uses da Vinci robots. A sixth hospital is under construction, and MultiCare also operates the MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation in Tacoma.
One benefit of working for MultiCare Health System is that their processes take full advantage of electronic patient records. MultiCare was an early adopter. The organization started using electronic patient records for their outpatient clinics in the late 1990s.
Naturally, the size and growth of the organization affect their recruiting efforts. “At any given time, we probably have more than 100 searches open, and that includes primary and specialty care,” says Bishop. “Right now, urgent care is a big focus.”
Bishop says there are many benefits to working for a larger health system. “Because we employ so many different providers, they have a built-in network to refer their patients to. Any specialty you can think of, we have in our system.”
That includes Whitesell’s specialty. “In medical school, everyone always says, ‘I’m going to be a cardiologist,’ or, ‘I’m going to do internal medicine.’ They made up their minds. I knew I was interested in orthopedics, but I went through medical school pretty open-minded. When I did my third-year rotation in surgery, I fell in love with surgery. When I did my first surgery in orthopedics, I was like, ‘I’m never doing anything else ever again.’”
It’s clear that Whitesell’s work isn’t just a paycheck for her. She says, “There’s something about taking care of kids that’s infectious in a good way! There’s an element of taking care of a kid and taking care of their parents. You take care of them in different ways.”
And when she’s not taking care of families, Whitesell enjoys taking care of her 10-month-old chocolate lab. She and her puppy go for walks and occasionally go running together.
“I really love all the outdoor activities,” says Whitesell. She also appreciates Tacoma’s versatility and overall feel. “It’s a big enough place that you can have anything you want living in a city,” she says “You’re close enough to Seattle, but Tacoma doesn’t feel like the suburbs. You’re living in its own place.”