The skin game- North Idaho Dermatology flourishing


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.”


Children apply classroom lessons to real world assignments

Fourth-graders from Athol Elementary celebrate completing the Coeur d’Alene Press’ Design an Ad program on March 5.

Fourth-graders from Athol Elementary celebrate completing the Coeur d’Alene Press’ Design an Ad program on March 5.


By Shane Richard Bell

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Blake Garcia, a fourth-grader at Athol Elementary, could not get Carrie Underwood out of his mind. All he could think about while at school was the glamorous country star and how he’d be hearing her sing live that very night in Spokane.

So when Coeur d’Alene Press representatives Nicole Choquette and Tiffany Morrett presented the Design an Ad program to him that day, it was no surprise the first person he wanted to design an ad for was Carrie Underwood.

Unfortunately for Blake, the country star was not one of the advertisers his class was commissioned to create an ad for in the Coeur d’Alene Press’ Design an Ad Contest, which challenges elementary through high school students to individually apply classroom lessons to the real world by designing their own ad for a North Idaho business.

This year, 1,800 students like Blake participated in the program, drawing support from 28 schools, 47 teachers and 105 businesses.

“Because we get the Coeur d’Alene Press in the classroom, they are interested in the community newspaper,” said Blake’s teacher, Danielle Scott. “The Design an Ad program really opens them up to a world they didn’t know about.”

Pizza parties offered to every participating class as well as three cash prizes (1st place- $200, 2nd place- $100, and 3rd place- $50) also provide students a real-world incentive.

Bryson Mari, another fourth-grader in Danielle Scott’s class, was at first more excited about the free pizza party than the assignment.

“I didn’t really want to do it at first because it seemed like a lot of work,” Bryson said. “But in the end, it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.”

Danielle Scott could see the program’s results in her students.

“It was cool to watch them because it’s a higher-level assignment,” she said. “They really have to think about the business, and it’s probably one they’ve never been to so they have to research the business and find out where it’s located. They even went on to Google maps to see what the places looked like. They had fun once they got into it.”

Every student is given the opportunity to make his or her own contribution to that business, the advertiser, and the greater community through the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Grace Gregory, 9, was particularly excited about drawing pictures and looking up information for her ad.

“It was really fun, and yes, I totally learned something,” Grace said.

“The Design an Ad program opens their minds to the possibilities of life,” said Scott. “If they’ve never been exposed to it, it won’t be something they’d even think about.”

Last week Danielle Scott spoke to her students about the importance of direction in deciding one’s career field.

“I asked my kids, ‘Where do you see yourself going? It’s good for my kids to have goals to think about. And the more they’re exposed to, the more choices they will have.”

The greatest lesson most kids learn isn’t something they expect, she said.

“It’s problem solving. That’s the big direction we’re going for, is teaching kids how to solve problems, and where the careers are going to be, because we don’t even know about some of the jobs that will be out there when they’re looking for jobs,” she said.  “And that’s what they had to do for the Design an Ad program. They got this information and they had to learn about what to do with it.”

‘Warrior on Wheels’

Laura Cohen, 25, laces up her quad skates before a practice for the Snake Pit Derby Dames at Skate Plaza last Thursday.

Laura Cohen, 25, laces up her quad skates before a practice for the Snake Pit Derby Dames at Skate Plaza last Thursday.


Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Laura Cohen admits that it might seem like she has multiple personalities.

One part likes to shop at farmers’ markets, practice Yoga, write lyrics, and discuss mythologist Joseph Campbell.

The other part of her is raw, rowdy, and socially rasping. It’s a side that craves intensity and adrenaline.

This side, she attributes to her Viking heritage, something she doesn’t apologize for; each is equally part of who she is.

She was born and raised in the Windy City. But her nomadic side has carried her from North Carolina to Hawaii and, most recently, Coeur d’Alene, where she moved for an executive’s assistant job at Quest Minerals Consulting in December 2012.

Moving here, she didn’t know anyone except for her boss, John Ryan, the CEO of Quest Minerals Consulting. Her education is in art and wilderness therapy, but when Ryan offered her a position in Coeur d’Alene, she couldn’t say “no” to a new adventure.

“I live in the gray areas,” said Cohen.

She’s determined to get to know people. In January, she saw a flier for roller derby that sparked her interest.

Squeezing on a pair of quad skates, she headed for the center of the track.

It was her first introduction to the Snake Pit Roller Derby Dames at Skate Plaza in front of 30 of its members. The only caveat was that she’d never skated.

Then she was flying.

“I’m a warrior on wheels now,” said Cohen.

Something sacred, even primitive, a side of her that’s always existed, clicked. They invited her to play on the team.

After undergoing rigorous training and a written test, Cohen graduated from the “fresh meat” training program, and will soon play her first “bout,” a roller derby match.

“They really want to be there,” said Cohen, speaking of her team. “They play to win.”

Meeting for practice every Thursday and Sunday, the Snake Pit Roller Derby Dames are divided into smaller teams: the Diamondback Girls, the Hissfits, and the all-star team, the Venomous Vixens.

Gaining momentum, the group competes across the Northwest, from Spokane to Seattle.

The sport is predominately played by women, although men’s derby teams are sprouting up across the western world, particularly in the U.S. and Australia.

Becoming popular during the Great Depression, roller derby was originally spearheaded by women as a spectator sport with a strong emphasis on entertainment. In the background, men had secondary roles as coaches and referees.

“A lot of it’s watching the intensity and fun,” said Cohen. “There is an element of dress up, of derby couture — that’s a phrase I just coined in the moment.”

‘Derby couture’ means every player gets to create an alter ego, a character born of imagination, with a different name, style and personality.

“If we were to break that down, it’s different for each person,” said Cohen, “Essentially it’s like one part sexy, one part badass, and one part strong Amazon feminist.”

Derby, for many women like Cohen, unleashes the unknown.

“When I started I felt like this little deer, and then I was like, ‘No, I have potential. I’m gaining the foundational skills.”

Cohen says they’re a tribe.

“It’s a team sport; we are looking out for each other,” she said. “I was happy to find the community in derby. It’s like a family.”

As such, they reach out to the community as well. On March 9, the Snake Pit Roller Derby Dames plunged into Lake Coeur d’Alene as an effort to raise money for the Special Olympics.

The team crosses generations and stereotypes, but many of Cohen’s teammates are mothers. “I saw this hard hitter one day at a match, and then she was rocking her little baby,” said Cohen.

“I thought, ‘Wow, it’s an outlet to break out of social norms, and have that kind of dichotomy in one’s personality where you can be really caring, respectful, and sweet and the other side is a badass, rebellious, can’t stop me, can’t touch me.”

Derby takes conviction.

First a player must overcome the fear of getting hurt, says Cohen. Then it’s all about learning the technical skills and the rules of a sport that most do not grow up watching or playing.

“I just want to be that unstoppable person,” said Cohen.

Laura Cohen, left, races her own teammates on Thursday leading up to the St. Patrick's Day match, "Hit Me I'm Irish," which was held Sunday at Skate Plaza.

Laura Cohen, left, races her own teammates on Thursday leading up to the St. Patrick’s Day match, “Hit Me I’m Irish,” which was held Sunday at Skate Plaza.

Roller derby is a competitive contact sport, played between two teams of five players each on a circular track traveling counter-clockwise. The two main positions in roller derby are blockers and jammers.

Jammers break through the pack and score points by skating past the opposing team.

The blockers simultaneously play offense and defense. Meaning, blockers stop opposing jammers while helping their own jammers move through the pack through “whipping.”

“Whipping means pulling or pushing the jammers, and the jam is over either when it is called off by the lead jammer, or when a set period of time is reached, such as two minutes,” according to

“Laura has overcome a lot of stuff,” said Snake Pit Roller Derby member Kari Glessner, also known as ‘Push’N Daisies’ to teammates. “Laura is awesome; she’s a go-getter. And she’s got a great spirit and energy about her that she brings to the team. We’re happy to have new people join the team.”

“Laura?” exclaims “fresh meat” coach Bekah Mandersheid. “She’s totally gung-ho and willing to try anything. She’s extremely athletic. She graduated from my program and is ready to play with the big girls.”

Coach Mandersheid says Cohen is “determined and enthusiastic. When I am standing or talking to the team about doing something, she’ll listen while also doing push-ups and sit-ups. She’s go-go-go, non-stop.”

Derby is a place that leads Cohen to many other places.

“It gives me a warrior mentality of not letting myself get down for any reason. People in derby skate past all the beliefs and limitations of something being hard, of not being good enough, and they do it,” said Cohen.

In that place, alongside her teammates and opponents, Cohen sees herself.

“‘Warrior on wheels’ is the right of passage, which always occurs in me. It’s a human interest story, because we all have it. So I saw derby as this huge calling to me.”

Her greatest passion is to always follow these adventures, whether she’s swimming in a waterfall in Costa Rica, snowshoeing at Fourth of July Pass, fire dancing, mushroom picking, feeling the breath of an Asian Elephant on her palms in India, or playing a piano in the back of a pickup truck with friends.

She wants to once again teach wilderness and art therapy to children, adolescents and adults. Her dream is to build a healing center with a home and free-range farm in the wilderness. The refuge would be a place of permanence, dedicated to the many levels of one’s healing. It’s a dream she’s always, in some way, working toward.

In fact, this weekend she’s headed south, through the undulating hills of the Palouse, in search of what could be that very place.

“The road to paradise is a muddy one,” said Cohen. “I want to feel closer to the land and closer to community. I’m interested in empowering people creatively.”

It’ll be a rest stop, a quiet corner in a chaotic world, where anyone close enough to the silence can listen to the whispering rights of passage.

Weddings at Blackwell offer inclusive, North Idaho wedding experience

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo


By Shane Richard Bell

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press/Bridal Expo 2013

She stood near the rounded windows in her wedding gown, in the same spot where brides have stood for more than a hundred years; her veil delicately covered her face and wrapped around her shoulders and arms.

When she looked out the second story-window of the Blackwell Hotel in downtown Coeur d’Alene on Sherman Ave., Amy Plass saw her fiancé, Martin Plass, dressed in a gray suit with a silver bowtie, taking pictures with his groomsmen and family under the large maple trees that turn red in the autumn.

“That is the moment I remember most vividly,” said Amy Plass. ‘That was the epiphany when it struck me that it was really our wedding day.”

She knew in that moment the Blackwell Hotel was the right place to celebrate her wedding on Sept. 8, 2012.

The Blackwell Hotel. Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

The Blackwell Hotel. Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Since last summer, the Blackwell Hotel has intimately hosted more than 20 weddings and other various events, with groups as small as 10 people to as big as 250. This summer will be their biggest season yet. Unique and luxurious, the Blackwell Hotel offers an unparalleled accommodation experience.

Martin and Amy Plass fell in love with the Blackwell Hotel for a variety of reasons.

“We used the Blackwell Hotel as ‘home base’ for our wedding weekend. We used it as a reception venue and for lodging for our family and bridal family that came in from out of town,” said Amy.  “Most of all, we liked that we could rent the place to ourselves for the entire weekend.”

The Blackwell Hotel can accommodate every stage of a wedding celebration, from the rehearsal dinner to the wedding ceremony and reception to the after-party. A large and enclosed backyard with lush grass and flowers suits a marriage ceremony or reception exquisitely. A gazebo, a private garden, and a hot tub that fits eight are also available for wedding guests.

The Hotel is four blocks from Lake Coeur d’Alene, with easy access to the region’s finest dining, shopping and activities. “We liked the fact that it is really close to town and Cd’A’s nightlife. All of us could walk everywhere. We loved the character and charm of the house and the history behind it,” said Amy.

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

As a wedding ‘home base,’ the Blackwell Hotel boasts a full-service kitchen, laundry facilities, dining rooms, seating rooms, bedrooms, and a media room complete with a flat screen T.V., shuffleboard and pool table. The stunning Blackwell Hotel is an elegant blend of century-old architecture, tall doors, spiraling staircases, and custom-framed windows that shed light on all of the Blackwell’s newest additions of modern décor and local fine art.

It’s a place of history and style, of richness and flair; the Blackwell Hotel is not only a place but an experience.

Amy Plass recommends the Blackwell Hotel to anyone and everyone: “The staff went above and beyond. Before the wedding I was worried about my grandma getting around at the reception and I had mentioned it to the staff. The day of the wedding I saw them get her wine from the bar, and offer her an arm when she was getting up from the table. They took such great care of her, and I am so grateful.”

Blackwell Hotel wedding packages are cost-effective and tailored to a bride and groom’s requests, merging all the needs of a wedding into one intimate and memorable place.

For a tour or for wedding package information, call Lizz Hoy at (208)-765-7799 or e-mail her at Information can also be found on our website,

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo

Photo courtesy of Urban Rose Photo