By SHANE RICHARD BELL
NIBJ writer/Coeur d’Alene Press
Dr. Stephen Craig founded North Idaho Dermatology of Coeur d’Alene in 1999 with a small office and one part-time nurse. His dream, from the very beginning, was to help heal people.
Today North Idaho Dermatology has helped heal between 60,000 and 75,000 patients across the Inland Northwest, with offices in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Liberty Lake, and Moscow.
“Serving the people of the Coeur d’Alene area is the best thing I have ever done,” said Dr. Craig.
“Dr. Craig feels like the reason he was sent here was to heal people,” said Chief Operating Officer Aaron Nicholes, who describes himself as the “engineer shoveling coal and tightening bolts” for the comprehensive medical and cosmetic dermatology practice. “He is committed to healing others, as all the providers are.”
More than 60 professionals comprise the North Idaho Dermatology staff, including four full-time dermatologists and four midlevel providers (nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant), as well as five full-time cosmetic specialists.
“One of my goals was to offer a full-service dermatology clinic,” said Dr. Craig. The headquarters for North Idaho Dermatology, located at 2288 Merritt Creek Loop in Riverstone of Coeur d’Alene, fulfills Dr. Craig’s goal of providing patients a center with every dermatologic therapy possible.
On an average day, North Idaho Dermatology treats 80 to 100 patients. That amount doubles to 200 on a busy day. Even so, NID makes it a priority to regard every patient on an individual basis.
“We try hard to make this place feel like family, with our employees and patients,” said Nicholes. “Everyone’s been to the doctor where they feel like they’ve been a number, like they’ve been shuffled through a system.”
Creating a strong culture of excellence where every staff member cares for each patient, says Nicholes, avoids the scenario where patients feel they are another name on a medical chart.
A patient, identified as “C.N.” from Coeur d’Alene, seconds the sentiment: “Your entire staff loves what they are doing. Everyone was happy and smiling and very chipper. I never felt like I was ‘just another patient.’ I was very impressed how patient-oriented NID was, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. How often can you say that about a doctor’s office?”
Nicholes believes North Idaho Dermatology is a vital service to the community.
“Medicine is one of the last things people cut,” said Nicholes. “We take care of skin cancers. That’s our main business. When someone is looking at their budget, deciding not to go to the dermatologist to have a follow-up on their cancer is probably the last thing to get cut. They’re going to cut their groceries before they cut their health.”
Early detection and eradication are their utmost objectives.
“That’s what we do all day,” said Nicholes. “There is never a day where we don’t discover and diagnose a cancer that someone didn’t know about before they walked in.
Saving lives is a common but extraordinary event.”
Many patients bring in gifts of gratitude- a plate of cookies, flowers, fruit, a handwritten note- following a successful surgery. But early diagnosis is the best prescription for success.
People should receive a full-body skin check once a year, recommends Nicholes, explaining how skin cancer can grow anywhere- behind your ear, on your scalp, or under your hair.
Sometimes it’s too late. “I’ll tell you a sad one. One young mother in her early 20s came in and thought she just had something funny on her, a discoloration of her skin. It was melanoma and it had spread. Within weeks she was gone, she left behind a husband a baby.”
NID wants to reach those people through the rippling effect of strong communication. “There is just constant communication here. The collegial atmosphere– they are friends, they like each other, use each other and refer to each other. We have lots of meetings and training sessions– as much as just in the hallway, on-the-fly communication as well.”
The communication shows.
“It’s the best place I’ve ever worked,” said Nursing Department Administrative Assistant Nancy Loken. “And I’ve worked a lot of places.”
I’ve never been able to say I love my job, and I love my job,” continues Loken. “I love the environment. I love the people I work with; I love the camaraderie and the team work all the way up to Dr. Craig who doesn’t set himself above us. He’s a part of us.”
“They are my family,” agreed Amy Hart. “We have a good time, we get things done, we take care of our patients. It feels, as a single woman, a secure and stable place for me to be and still continue to grow in my personal life, like buy a house and be a mom to my two chocolate labs.”
When employees and patients are happy, Nicholes feels he’s accomplishing his job.
“If we’re doing that and providing services and we’re profitable and can continue to operate, so that not only people can get cured of their cancers but other employees can feed their families and pay their mortgages, everyone wins,” said Nicholes.
Growth comes from multi-faceted marketing, Dr. Craig said.
“We use the newspaper. It has a really good ability to build top of mind awareness. We have an ad that’s a banner,” chimed in Nicholes. “We do lots of new marketing- mobile marketing, text messaging, Facebook contests, and all kinds of social media. We like to try new stuff as well- health fairs, barbecues, and speaking appointments.”
Patients see the difference. Interns see the difference. Employees see the difference.
“People watch what we do and how we do it,” Loken said, “and they’re in awe of it. Patients will say, ‘Everybody seems so happy here and it’s genuine.’ What you see is what we are. It’s like a family. When good things happen, we are there, and when bad things happen, we are there.”