By Scott Tedrick
The Affiliated Community Medical Center of Granite Falls welcomed a new Family Medicine Physician in Dr. Mark Eakes this month. And if there was one message that he said he wanted to convey to the community, it is that there is no where else he’d like to be.
“We’re here to stay,” said Eakes of his family. “We plan on making this community our home and getting to know people and be a part of it.”
A native of San Antonio, Texas, the 50-year-old Eakes said that he has long held a passion for rural areas that stems back to his experiences visiting his grandparents on their Oklahoma farm.
Eakes and his wife Debbie, have purchased a 10-acre hobby farm south of Sacred Heart where he said they spent the last month getting their property ready for chickens and goats. The two have seven children, four of whom are adopted, ranging in ages from nine to 33.
The family is finding itself acclimating to the area quickly, already involving itself in the Chippewa County 4-H Club and Rock Haven Church, while also attending local annual events such as this past weekend’s Upper Sioux Community Wacipi.
“We really enjoying doing outdoor stuff like camping and hiking,” he said. “The kids are really excited about jumping into some of the other opportunities like hunting and fishing and other things they haven’t really done before.”
A second vocation
By all accounts, Eakes time as a physician will serve as a second vocation. Ever since high school he said that he has wanted to be a doctor as well as attend the Naval Academy. The latter came first, and after 12 years on ships and then eight doing air-craft nuclear refueling overhaul work––including the coordination of a $2.5 billion aircraft carrier project–– he retired from his career as a naval officer and immediately began prepping for his long dormant passion of medicine.
“After graduating [with a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland] I earned a Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering [from the United States Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California] and have had three ship deployments that brought me around the world twice,” he said. “I’ve been allover the far east, the middle east and Europe. I’ve seen a lot. Did a lot. Been across the equator and gone through both canals––so I have had quite a breadth of experience within the military and the Navy, but it was time to transition into medicine.”
The vocational switch has been an eight year commitment. First Eakes earned his MPH and Medical Degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and recently wrapped up his residency with Portsmouth Family Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School in Portsmouth.
It may seem that going from overseeing a multi-billion dollar aircraft project to managing patient care and a medical team may not have lot of parallels, but Eakes says that he’s learned a number of lessons he expects to carryover.
“I was coordinating multiple contractors, civil servants and navy folk and all that––and I learned that you need to approach a problem not as who is responsible, but as why it happened as more of a system problem,” he said.
“A lot of errors that happen in cockpits, and that happen in operating rooms and emergency departments, are a lot of times because we didn’t build the process properly. It’s not that the person made a mistake because they weren’t trying hard, it’s because we didn’t set them up for success.”
A perfect match
Since 2006 Eakes said began exploring possible locations to practice medicine and has been in touch with recruiters across the country as far away as Alaska.
“I came across this particular job a few years ago when I was starting my residency. And I started to talking to the different folks within ACMC and Granite Falls, Dr. [Art] Rillo specifically, and it absolutely met what I wanted as a physician.”
Eakes said that ACMC flew his whole family out in 2012 and that after spending a week in the area he made a commitment to fill the post.
“The family just fell in love with the area so we knew this was the place for us,” he said.
In addition to his family’s inclination toward the idyllic rural setting for, Eakes said that ACMC provided the diversity of opportunities he was seeking as a physician, including Family Medicine and obstetrics as well as a hospital and nursing home.
Beyond that, the Yellow Medicine East School District and its ability to cater to special needs was also a major motivator in the move.
“Some of our kids have some learning issues so we needed to make sure that the facilities, infrastructure and individuals were available to meet those needs,” he said. “We actually met with some of the leadership at YME and found out that not only do they have those kind of resources but that they were better than the resources available to us coming from the large city of Chesapeake, Virginia. So we were really impressed with what they had to offer.
An excited move
Eakes said he actually purchased his rural Sacred Heart home back in early 2013, but had to finish up residency program before relocating to Minnesota. He said his family has made a game out of “counting down the days” and the transition has been made excitedly and expeditiously.
“The kids wrapped up school, our son was married May 30 and we did our own moving to get out here in the beginning of July,” he said. “We spent a month getting ready and now its time work.”
According to ACMC, Eakes will provide comprehensive medical care for families and individuals, caring for patients from birth to advanced age. He will also provides obstetrics care for expectant mothers and c-section delivery.
Outside of work, Eakes said he’s big into fitness, loves the outdoors and enjoys working with his hands. He’s restored an automobile and found a 25-year old snowmobile that he plans to get running during the fall. Beyond that, he says their many projects at home that expects to keep him busy over the next several years.
“There’s a common three adjectives I’ve heard people use to describe Minnesota. They say people are extremely friendly, its beautiful and its cold. I haven’t experienced the cold part, but definitely experienced the warm and friendliness––and also just the beauty of the area,”