After watching many island kids grow up before his eyes, longtime pediatrician Mark Fishaut is trading his stethoscope for garden shears as he retires at the end of this month.
“I think the most important thing I’ve brought to daycare on the island over the years is the concept of ‘the medical house’. This is my discipline’s vision of comprehensive care for children and families, which is based on collaboration with other professionals, communication and continuity of care,” said Fishaut. “By working with others over the years, we have systematically helped increase vaccination coverage from unacceptably low levels to now in line with state and national guidelines, reduced sports injuries and contributed to improved mental health care for both young children as well as adolescents.”
Originally from British Columbia, Fishaut attended college in Massachusetts; went to medical school; trained as a pediatrician in Connecticut; did fellowship training in Colorado; then eventually went to Buffalo New York to work in the college faculty. Finally, hoping to move back west, he and his wife ended up on San Juan Island. He then connected with San Juan Healthcare in May 2004, leading to his 17-year career on the island.
Working for San Juan Healthcare was a very different experience than any other practice he worked at in terms of community focus, Fishaut explained. Back on the East Coast, he said he felt the need to choose between quality or quantity, as the fast-paced environment makes it harder to get to know a patient well, while medicine has become less personal and more industrialized.
The big change was that in New York he didn’t live in the community in which he worked.
“In that sense, working on the island was much more personal,” he said. “But that’s been one of the keys to the joy of working here for so long. I have taken a number of children as my patients, from newborn through high school.”
In addition to being a pediatrician, Fishaut was the girls’ soccer coach for Friday Harbor High School from 2006 to 2011.
“I coached a lot of girls who also grew up with me as their pediatrician, so I really had to make sure I could separate those two worlds,” he said.
Fishaut, however, enjoyed getting to know these children in a different way.
“Watching people grow up is an amazing thing,” Fishaut said, adding that some of the most rewarding experiences have been helping children struggling with difficult situations.
While he enjoyed getting to know his patients on the island, there are also some difficulties that come from being an isolated community.
“Rural medicine in general is very different. Access to resources is much more limited. The populations are smaller and more intimate,” he said, adding that the ferries have also made things more difficult.
One of the hardest aspects, Fishaut explained, is, “When tragedies happen, especially in small, tight-knit communities like this one, the pain is all the worse.”
These things made his time as a pediatrician on the island turbulent at times, but it was all worth it with the sense of community he felt, Fishaut said.
As he completes his practice, Fishaut said in his final year as a pediatrician that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the medical sector. In some cases, entire practices have closed in rural America. The island already has a small population of children, as they are outnumbered by an older population, making it difficult to be a pediatrician. Since the pandemic, he said he has seen fewer people come to his practice. This was one of the factors leading to his decision to retire.
“The changing politics of medicine is for others to eradicate. My days of that are done,” he said with a laugh.
With four children, eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest — as well as two dogs and a cat — Fishaut said he hopes to spend more time with his family and work in his yard. In addition, he also plans to remain involved in the school district, especially in special education, as he has become attached to the community.
“There’s nothing like someone thanking you on the street for something you’ve done for their child,” he said. “There is no monetary reward that can replace that.”