September 25, 2017

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Finding His Fit: Dr. Nathanial Slinkard on Building an Orthopedic Practice in Willmar

Slinkard in officeIf you ask Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Nathanial Slinkard where he saw himself after medical school, ACMC Health would be it. His checklist included finding a rural healthcare facility that offers high quality care for everyone from athletes to the elderly. At ACMC, he has found just that. With a focus on joint repair, total joint replacement and sports medicine, Dr. Slinkard is building his practice and becoming an important orthopedic asset in Willmar and surrounding communities.

Growing up in New Prague, MN, Dr. Slinkard remembers how difficult it was to find specialty care in a smaller, rural community. So when he began his pre-med at St. Johns University, he wasn’t certain what he would specialize in, but knew that rural health was his first priority. “It was always a pain growing up in a small town and having to drive long distances just to see your specialist,” Dr. Slinkard recalled. “That’s why I wanted to work in a community where specialty care can be limited.”

Once he began medical school at the University of Minnesota, it didn’t take long for Dr. Slinkard to realize that orthopedic surgery was his calling. “There is a big technical aspect to orthopedics because things have to be lined up in a certain way,” Dr. Slinkard explained. “For me, I like being able to work with bones, tendons and ligaments, because they fit and I can hold them together with plates and screws. It’s like being a glorified carpenter.”

Before medical school, Dr. Slinkard spent two years at General Mills, working in research and development. He then spent an additional year doing orthopedic-specific research to help improve his knowledge on the inner workings of orthopedics before beginning his residency. “It was a good experience because it allowed me to learn a lot about orthopedic surgery and why we are doing the things we do,” Dr. Slinkard said. 

Once he completed his course work, Dr. Slinkard faced a new challenge after being placed at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan for his residency. With a newborn son and no living arrangement in place, he and his wife, Wendy, packed up and headed off to their next adventure. “My son was two weeks old when we found out where we were going for residency,” Dr. Slinkard remembered. “We actually didn’t have a place to stay until we crossed over the Michigan border. It was a little stressful getting started but it all ended up working out in the end.”

After spending five years in Detroit, Dr. Slinkard was ready to build his first medical practice closer to home. “I knew I wanted to come back to Minnesota from the start,” Dr. Slinkard said. During a pediatric rotation in Minnesota, Dr. Slinkard began communicating with different practices throughout the state. It was then that he discovered ACMC. “My wife and I both really liked the area and we could see ourselves raising our family here,” he said.

It was the perfect fit. “We absolutely love it here,” Dr. Slinkard said. “I like getting to know the people in the community and being able to take care of them is a reward in and of itself.”

Slinkard in ORSince coming to ACMC in September 2016, Dr. Slinkard has tasked himself with rebuilding ACMC’s orthopedic department, which had gone without a full-time surgeon for about a year before he started. With the construction of a new ambulatory surgery center in the works, he looks forward to providing more services and expanding the surgical team to support the growing demand in the area. “I work at a faster pace and I want to build the practice to where it once was with four or five surgeons,” Dr. Slinkard explained.  “We would like to provide the best care for people in this area and so people don’t have to travel to the Twin Cities for care.”

In his practice, Dr. Slinkard performs a variety of surgeries in three facilities: ACMC Willmar’s main clinic, the Willmar Ambulatory Surgery Center and Rice Memorial Hospital. This includes the repair of bones, ligaments and muscles but in most cases, for Dr. Slinkard, total joint replacements. “Every type of surgery is so different and has its own technical aspects that make it challenging and engaging,” he described.
Dr. Slinkard is also working to expand his sports medicine practice, he enjoys attending local sporting events and consulting with athletes after an injury. As a former collegiate wrestler, Dr. Slinkard experienced two shoulder surgeries which ended his athletic career. He strives to help athletes not suffer the same fate by guiding their rehabilitation. “It helps being able to tell athletes that I have been in their shoes,” Dr. Slinkard said. “I know what they are going through and that it can get better.”

He frequently consults with injured athletes to determine the best route to help them get back into the game. Often times, this may not result in a trip to the operating room but to physical therapy, rest or other recovery options. In instances where athletes do require surgery, Dr. Slinkard follows the healing process through to be sure post-operative care and therapy goes as smoothly as possible.

Beyond performing surgery, Dr. Slinkard hopes to help educate athletes in the local schools on injuries, the importance of becoming multisport athletes and the dangers of overuse. “I think educating the athletes will help them understand the process better,” Dr. Slinkard explained. “Then if I see them later they will be better prepared for treatment and recovery.”

The road to becoming an orthopedic surgeon is a long one. For Dr. Slinkard and his family, it took them from Minnesota to Michigan, from research to residency, and brought them to a place they are happy to call home, Willmar.

Find out how you can join ACMC’s Orthopedic Surgery team.