Local doctor receives national honor

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 5, 2024

 Kathleen Rollinger

Kathleen Rollinger

GROSSE POINTE CITY — There are lots of good doctors tending to patients on the east side, but one of the best in the country is one who practices out of Corewell Health Beaumont Grosse Pointe Hospital in Grosse Pointe City.

Family medicine physician Dr. Kathleen Rollinger was named 2024 National Family Physician of the Year by the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians. Rollinger received her award during the ACOFP 61st Annual Convention and Scientific Seminars April 4 in New Orleans.

There are more than 20,000 osteopathic physicians in the nation and only one is given this award each year. It recognizes physicians who have made outstanding contributions to their field and in their communities.

“It’s incredibly humbling,” Rollinger said. “I’m so honored.”

Rollinger, who has been practicing medicine for about 30 years, is a graduate of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. As a doctor who has delivered babies and done geriatric care, she has tended to the needs of entire families and, in some cases, multiple generations in a family — something she said she has found very rewarding.

Dr. Natalie Madoun is in the third year of her family medicine residency, where she has studied with and been mentored by Rollinger.

“She is such an inspiration,” Madoun said. “She’s the real definition of a family medicine doctor, taking care of mom, baby (and seniors). Her relationship with her patients is extraordinary.”

The American Osteopathic Association says on its website that only about 11% of physicians in the United States are Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs. According to the AOA website, DOs consider how lifestyle, environment and other factors can impact health and look at how addressing those issues could resolve a patient’s symptoms. While they can, and do, prescribe medicine, they’ll also see if other courses of action could give a patient relief.

“They practice medicine according to the latest science and technology, but also consider options to complement pharmaceuticals and surgery,” the AOA states.

They also receive additional training in the musculoskeletal system, which consists of the body’s linked network of nerves, bones and muscles.

“I think what attracted me was the mind-body-spirit aspect, the wholistic aspect,” Rollinger said.

Most of her hospital colleagues at Corewell are Doctors of Medicine, or MDs, but Rollinger said it has “always felt collegial.”

“I love and treasure my allopathic colleagues,” Rollinger said. “I’ve learned from them, and I hope they’ve learned from me.”

Rollinger said “caring, compassion and empathy” are crucial skills for all medical providers.

“I think that physicians need to be good listeners, no matter what (their) field of medicine,” Rollinger said.

Her patients say Rollinger is a good listener — and more.

Karen Mazzola, of St. Clair Shores, who has been going to Rollinger for the last three decades, remembers how Rollinger was there for her when Mazzola’s mother was dying and when her daughter was battling cancer, even returning calls at night.

“She definitely treats our family like family,” Mazzola said. “She’s really special.”

Mazzola said Rollinger has even attended her family’s weddings and retirement parties.

“It’s nice when you see someone get recognized that deserves it,” Mazzola said. “She’s the most selfless person in the world. She’s just so caring.”

Madoun said Rollinger does home visits for patients no longer able to get to her office. On one such visit, she said a female patient with severe dementia was in a bad state when they arrived. Madoun said Rollinger put on some classic Motown music for the patient and danced with her so she could calm the woman enough to enable the doctor to do a physical exam on her.

“I have just seen her doing amazing things with the patients,” Madoun said.

Rollinger, who operates her personal practice out of an office in St. Clair Shores, grew up in Roseville and now lives in Clinton Township. She did her medical residency at Bon Secours Hospital, the predecessor to Beaumont/Corewell.

“I’m an eastsider wanting to give back to the community where I live,” Rollinger explained.

Rollinger was the first person in her family to go to medical school, but she won’t be the last. The mother of three adult children — a son and twin daughters — said Maria, one of the twins, is in her second year of studying osteopathic medicine at MSU. Daughter Elena graduated from the University of Michigan Business School with a master’s degree in accounting and son Jason works for a designer clothing company.

She said her father worked for General Motors and her mother was a homemaker.

“I felt like I would never get into medical school because I didn’t have a doctor in the family,” said Rollinger, who was nonetheless a standout student, graduating as salutatorian of her class at Roseville High School.

Despite a busy schedule as a doctor and educator, Rollinger has still found time to volunteer, including serving as a troop leader for Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan for more than a decade.

Rollinger has also volunteered for several medical trips to Peru and Guatemala with other medical professionals, who would provide dentistry, dermatology and other medical care to people who were impoverished and living in remote areas where they lacked access to these services. She found herself deeply moved by the experience.

“People would wait hours (to see the doctors),” Rollinger said. “They were so grateful. … Some of them were crying.”

Not having a patient’s medical history or access to labs tests a person’s skills as a doctor, Rollinger said.

Madoun, who went with Rollinger on a medical trip to Guatemala, said they had to make do with whatever they could bring.

“I saw her take care of patients with an ultrasound on a wooden table,” Madoun said of Rollinger.

This isn’t Rollinger’s first award. Among her many other honors are the Michigan Osteopathic Association Women of Excellence Award in May 2019, the Michigan Association of Osteopathic Family Physicians Family Physician of the Year in 2020 and the Physician of Distinction at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, in August 2019.

Because of her knowledge and skill set, Rollinger has been tapped for a number of prominent appointments. She is currently serving on the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Physician Diversity Council and was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the state of Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Board of Osteopathic Medicine.

“She’s been a mentor, a teacher, a friend,” Madoun said. “I would be lucky to become a doctor like her. Her patients just adore her.”