Dr. Sabrina Mitchell, DO
St. Mary’s Family Medicine Center &
St. Mary’s Residency Program
SCL Health/Intermountain Healthcare
Stepping inside Dr. Sabrina Mitchell’s office you’ll be greeted by an array of flowering plants and a hand-crocheted collection of Star Wars characters. It’s fitting, as Dr. Mitchell has been called a Jedi for her ability to effortlessly read and reason with her patients. In addition to crocheting, one of her favorite hobbies is riding her Harley. Once her two daughters were old enough to be independent, Sabrina bought her first motorcycle. Later, her husband followed suit, so the couple could ride together on road trips to places like South Dakota and California.
Dr. Mitchell has been at St. Mary’s Family Medicine Center for the past twelve years. The clinic is a community-based residency program which has been in existence for 43 years. It’s a competitive program, known for attracting the cream of the crop across the U.S. Each year the program receives over 400 graduate applicants, 120 of whom land an interview, all in hopes of filling one of nine coveted slots. The program seeks out four-year students with an interest in full-spectrum family medicine and looks to capture those with high emotional intelligence to embody the high standard of medical care practiced at the clinic.
Currently, St. Mary’s Family Medicine Center employs 11-12 faculty, each of whom bear the title of “associate professor” with Colorado Mesa University (CMU), though SCL Health St. Mary’s Medical Center is their sponsoring organization. The faculty all carry patient panels while cooperatively instructing 27 residents who also have patient panels during their three years in training.
Dr. Mitchell started as a faculty member but is now a program director for the facility, overseeing faculty, residents and residency requirements. While 70 percent of her role is administrative, she still provides patient care as well.
The clinic strives to maintain full-spectrum care which is an increasing rarity in this day and age, covering everything from OB care to baby deliveries to home health and nursing home visits. The clinic offers after-hours care on Wednesdays and faculty and residents are broken down into small sub-groups so patients see approximately 1 of 4 providers for a more individualized care experience.
“Part of what’s great about the program,” states Dr. Mitchell, “is that there’s probably not a primary care practice in the valley that doesn’t have one of our graduates. At our 40th celebration a couple years ago we recognized between 50 and 70 Mesa County doctors who graduated from our program. They come, fall in love with Grand Junction and they stay!”
Dr. Mitchell genuinely loves making connections with patients. “I think for all of the physicians in our group what drives us–our ‘why–is our interaction with patients. That’s what makes the long hours or working thirty hours in a stretch ok. You really get to know patients and their whole family.” She adds that one of the pros of family medicine is the chance to guide patients because of an eventual unique understanding of family history. “I get to do that—but then I also get to train all of these great young doctors to go out and do the same thing. It has a double pay off. It feeds my soul and feeds their soul,” she explains.
One of the factors that shaped the way Dr. Mitchell practices medicine is growing up with a father who was very sick. Sabrina was convinced she wanted nothing to do with a career in medicine, but by her senior year of college, she realized she needed education beyond her physiology degree. When her academic advisor heard her thoughts regarding how medicine should be practiced and patients treated–all widely based on her experience with her dad’s medical journey–he advised her to pursue osteopathic medical school. At that time, osteopathy was more holistically focused. Sabrina attended medical school in Maine and still uses osteopathic manipulation in about 50 percent of her patient care, valuing the help and comfort it provides for her patients.
Dr. Mitchell is also board certified in hospice and palliative care. When she was still undergoing training, hospice was more of a movement than an established medical route, but that didn’t deter her. She has always approached medicine from the desire to address the elephant in the room, whatever that may be, and talk about what care is going to realistically look like for a patient before they get down a long-term path. Mitchell reflects, “Healthcare is sometimes like a snowball. It seems like physicians sometimes forget to ask their patients, ‘how is this treatment working for you?’ I think talking about the option to not do all the things is really important. It might be gold standard, state of the art treatment, but the patient doesn’t want all it entails. I think giving them space to say that and be ok with that is where a lot of physicians struggle and that happens to be a space I really enjoy.”
Dr. Mitchell describes her approach to medicine as “common sense; I look at the guidelines and then I talk with my patients and ask ‘how would that work for you?’” A believer in full disclosure with patients and always giving options, Mitchell wisely states: “It’s ok to admit you can’t cure a patient.”
It’s the refreshing, pragmatic approach that is shaping a whole new generation of medical care on the Western Slope, and western Colorado is lucky to have Dr. Mitchell’s expertise in primary care and her leadership within the community-based residency program through the joint partnership between CMU and St. Mary’s Medical Center that trains and keeps our rising workforce of physicians local.
Dr. Sabrina Mitchell serves on Monument Health’s Clinical Effectiveness Committee, a board subcommittee within the CIN that works to establish and monitor clinical quality across the network.