Dr. Mack is hands-on in the Hilltowns

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Kristin Mack, D.O., explains how she would use her hands on a patient to relieve a tension headache. As the next in line to head the medical practice in Berne, after Gary Kolanchik, M.D., Mack is a Doctor of Osteopathy, as opposed to a Medical Doctor, though they share much of the same training and qualifications.

The Mack family from left, Henry, Evan, Carter, and Kristin.

BERNE — The Hilltowns seem especially fortunate with their physicians.

Dr. Kristin Mack will this week begin a year of training under Dr. Gary Kolanchik before he retires and she becomes the next primary-care physician in Berne.

For 32 years, Kolanchik has been the trusted source of medical knowledge for many Hilltown residents, a mantle which he inherited from his mentor, Dr. Margery Smith before him.

“You don’t see many small towns with two docs,” Mack said of the period of several decades over which her predecessors worked. “I just want the people of Berne to know that I know that that’s special and I will work hard to be part of that.”

Mack, 32, noted that her native West Virginia with its mountainous terrain became a state by seceding from Virginia. “It’s a very isolated culture,” she said. “Because of that, the people within are helpful to each other.”

Mack studied at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, one of the nation’s best for rural medicine.

“I feel like everyone should have a primary-care physician and have access to that and someone that they trust,” said Mack.

Her husband, Evan Mack, whom she met when he was an ambivalent pre-med student at Vanderbilt University, is now an accomplished composer who is an assistant professor of music at Skidmore College and recently finished a stay at Yaddo gardens artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs.

They live in the hamlet of McKownville in Guilderland and have two young sons, Carter and Henry.

The two things that attracted the Macks to the Capital Region were its access to rural and city life and Evan Mack’s relatives who live here.

Kristin Mack grew up in Spring Hill, West Virginia. Her father was a dentist, as his father was, and her mother was a homemaker.

She recalled gluing sugar cubes together, helping her mother prepare a display at the local library that illustrated how much sugar was in common foods, like ketchup. Both parents were community leaders, Mack said, and sometimes acted like parents to other children.

“Not everything that they did had a title; they just did it,” said Mack.

The practice Mack will oversee was purchased by CapitalCare Medical Group in 2011. She will introduce pre-natal care and obstetrics services at the practice, so a mother won’t have to switch doctors or go off of the Hill, except to deliver at Bellevue Woman’s Center in Schenectady. Without the change, Mack said, a mother might use an obstetrician-gynecologist, which could lead to breaking the continuity of a single family doctor for a family.

“I prefer a whole community approach when it comes to family medicine,” said Mack.

As a doctor of osteopathy, as opposed to a medical doctor, Mack is trained in relying on her hands for diagnoses and treatments. But D.O.s aren’t limited from using medications or surgery.

“Our training is very similar,” Mack said of M.D.s. “We really base it on the idea that the body heals itself.”

“If you come in with a headache,” she explained, “I am going to be relieving some of that muscle tension while discussing with you what to do in the future.”

As schools of osteopathic medicine proliferate, more doctors graduate and they are welcomed as a solution to help with a shortage of physicians who can work in underserved areas.

Mack studied at Vanderbilt University, where she was led into research science, earning her master’s degree in biology at the University of Cincinnati. The focus on the details of biology led Mack to recognize that she wanted to work in the broader world of helping patients, and she says she has a responsibility to see through the changes happening in health-care, with the Affordable Care Act, and protect her relationships with her patients in the meantime.

As a student, Mack attended “D.O. Day” on Capitol Hill, when osteopathic medical students lobbied federal lawmakers. She then became the national liaison officer of the student osteopathic medical association.

“I’d rather be in a room with a patient, but I think that’s what keeps me in a room with a patient,” Mack said.

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