Dr. Suzanne Daniell likens the role of an internal medicine physician to that of a detective.
“We’re the sleuths of the medical world for adults,” she said. “We’re like Sherlock Holmes.”
It’s that task of taking her patients’ history and management of symptoms, and figuring out how the pieces fit together for a diagnosis and solutions that has kept Daniell engaged in medicine. Many times it means treating patients with diabetes, chronic infections, mental illness or cancer and looking at the whole patient rather than one part like a specialist would.
“It’s a challenge,” she said. “It’s all the different medical disciplines. You also follow people long-term. Internal medicine has been a fun job for me.”
Daniell has practiced in Whitefish since 1994 and was among the doctors that first formed Glacier Medical Associates in Whitefish. She has also worked at North Valley Hospital and served as a member of the hospital Board of Directors. She is retiring from her practice, but plans to continue working part-time as the medical director of the Montana Veterans Home, a position she has held for 24 years.
She says she will miss her patients, noting that she has treated some of them for more than 20 years, including three patients who were treated by her father who was also a physician in internal medicine. However, she’s glad to continue at the Veterans Home, which will allow her to continue practicing medicine, but still pursue activities outside work.
“The Veterans Home has really expanded as a long-term care facility and it is caring for patients with acute issues that in the past would have gone to the hospital,” she said. “It’s a really good facility and gives me the chance to use my skills to assist some that are part of an underserved population.”
Daniell’s path to a career in medicine began at the age of 29. She had already earned her master’s in microbiology and was working in San Francisco in a lab doing research, but couldn’t picture herself spending the rest of her career “shuffling test tubes.” So she began volunteering, including at a suicide hotline, with intercity youth, for the San Francisco Zoo, at an intercity hospital. She also explored options for working in marketing for the research company.
Eventually she decided on medicine and was accepted to George Washington University School of Medicine. She later completed residency and fellowship training at the University of Washington program in Spokane.
Looking to move from Spokane, she ended up in Whitefish at one of the three clinics that eventually merged to form Glacier Medical Associates. She says it’s been incredible to watch Glacier Medical grow.
“We closed three clinics on Friday and by Monday we were open as one,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but it’s been amazing to go from working solo with two to three employees to working with a staff of more than 100 employees. I’ll miss the satisfaction of helping to create that, but not having to run a business.”
In retirement, Daniell plans to continue her volunteer work with Shepherd’s Hand Clinic, as a citizen scientist for huckleberry research for the United States Geological Survey, on board for the North Fork Preservation Association, and We the People constitution competitions. She also plans to spend more time with her husband, Richard Hildner, at their cabin in the North Fork along with hiking, backpacking and fishing.
She says working as a physician, while rewarding, has often meant late dinners and missed family events, so she’s looking forward to taking time for life’s important moments.
She expects to do plenty of running alongside her husband. Both are avid long distance runners having completed among other races, the 50-mile Le Grizz. She expects not only train with him, but serve as his support crew for a 100-mile race he is planning to run this fall in Illinois.
“I have to run with him on the North Fork because I don’t want him to get eaten by a grizzly,” she said with a smile.