Dedicated to Women's Health
Dr. Karen Tammela is an OB/GYN for Prevea Health. She sees patients at Prevea St. Mary’s Health Center in Green Bay. Dr. Jon Tammela is a Gynecologic Oncologist for Prevea Health. He sees patients for cervical, uterine, vaginal, ovarian and vulvar cancer at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital Regional Cancer Center in Green Bay. They’ve both been awarded the “Living the Mission” award given by St. Vincent Hospital for their excellent care as well as their contributions to the community.
In 2005, after finishing medical school, residencies and training, Karen and Jon considered job opportunities throughout the country, ultimately deciding Green Bay was where they wanted to establish their practices.
Their days can be long and are often stressful, but the couple makes time to decompress, whether that’s planning for an upcoming trip, popping open a bottle of wine or hanging with their two lovable dogs, Bronson and Baxter.
Karen and Jon welcomed us into their home and offered a glimpse into their lives.
Tell me a little about yourself.
Karen: I grew up in Florida, where I lived until I went to college at Princeton University. I received a Harry S. Truman scholarship, which recognized my leadership potential and commitment to public service. I went to Vanderbilt for medical school where I was awarded a full merit-based scholarship; I completed my residency at the University of Florida in OB-GYN.
Jon: I am Canadian and grew up just outside Toronto. I was a nationally ranked junior tennis player and went to college in Hawaii on a full tennis and academic scholarship. I went to medical school at Indiana University in Indianapolis and did my residency at the University of Florida in OB-GYN.
Where did you two meet?
Karen: We met in residency and moved to Buffalo, New York, for Jon’s fellowship subspecialty training in Gynecologic Oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Center.
What inspired you to pursue a career in gynecology?
Karen: I was interested in women’s health. Baby delivering is fun because it’s a little different every time — my favorite part is seeing dads cry — but it was more about working in women’s health.
Jon: My first clinical rotation in med school was OB-GYN, which was usually delivering babies from young, excited, healthy couples and I liked that. But, as part of that rotation I worked in gynecologic oncology and I was drawn to the patients and the surgery. I enjoyed taking care of patients from diagnosis to treatment
How did you end up in Northeast Wisconsin?
Karen: Once Jon completed his training, we considered numerous opportunities throughout the country, but decided that practicing in Green Bay was the best fit for us. There was an opportunity for Jon to build a practice from the ground up with the support of Prevea and St. Vincent Hospital, so that women of the region no longer had to travel to Milwaukee or Madison to receive gynecologic cancer care. I joined Prevea’s department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where I deliver babies and perform gynecologic surgery at St. Mary’s and St. Vincent Hospitals.
Jon: My patients come from all over because of my unique gynecologic oncology specialty, with 60 percent of my referrals coming from outside of Brown County.
What was your first impression of Green Bay?
Karen: Before moving here, I really only knew what I saw on TV, which was rabid Packers fans. But, when we got here, the first thing we noticed was how friendly people are — really genuinely friendly. Everyone was quick to show us around and introduce us. They say the Midwest is nice and it’s true.
Jon: I was impressed by Green Bay’s beauty and have found it’s a nice place to practice.
Can you describe a typical day?
Karen: I work three days a week but still take full call. Most days I arrive at work at 7 a.m. and come home around 7 or 8 p.m. I’m on call one weekend per month and one weekday per week, which usually requires me to stay overnight at the hospital.
I might do a C-section or minor surgery at 7 a.m., then make rounds at the hospital and see patients in my office until the evening. Approximately 50 percent of my time is spent in prenatal care and delivery and the other half gynecology. When on call, I deliver babies, receive high-risk patients in transfer from outlying regions and handle gynecological emergency calls from the ER.
Jon works four to five days a week, working with his team to make rounds at the hospital and he sees patients in the office for chemotherapy and initial or follow-up evaluation. He carries a pager 24/7 so he’s always on call, although his on-call rarely requires him to go in where my on-call requires me to be there — mine is intense and intermittent where his is constant.
Do your paths ever cross throughout the day?
Karen: Every Monday, we both perform surgeries, so our paths often cross in the operating rooms. At times, we will operate together on a patient, for a complex case. At times we’ll share mutual patients, such as when I evaluate a patient for a concern and diagnose a cancer.
What is it like working together?
Jon: I find it comfortable. We can bounce things off each other and reassure each other. It’s also nice to have someone at home that understands the work schedule — you have to be flexible.
How do you juggle work and home?
Karen: Like everyone, we struggle for balance as we want to provide excellent patient care, but also have well-developed lives outside of medicine. Yes, work often comes home with us. We will discuss challenging cases and brainstorm solutions. And, the implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) is a mixed blessing — it allows excellent record-keeping for patient care, but also enables charting and administrative tasks, such as lab result interpretation and emails to patients, to be done from any secure laptop. This has led to a trend of doctors bringing work home to encroach on home time. To combat this, we try to always have something non-work related to focus on as well, to draw our attention and keep us balanced.
For example, we enjoy choosing a physical challenge and preparing for that event. We climbed Kilimanjaro one year. We cycled Mount Ventoux in France one year. We have cycled off-road in South Africa. We are preparing now for the three-day course of the Breck Epic, a mountain bike race in August in Breckenridge, Colorado.
We also like to be actively learning about something outside our fields of expertise — we are currently doing a video course on medieval history. But, sometimes we like to just crash on the couch and watch Game of Thrones.
What motivates you?
Karen: Perhaps because of our chosen field of work, we understand how precious life is and how brief it might be. This motivates us to live each day of our life to the fullest. So, whether it’s work, travel, education of ourselves or our patients, time with friends and family, we strive for excellence in every regard.
Tell me about your desire to travel.
Karen: Travel keeps us excited and refreshed. Our favorite place to go is wherever we haven’t been yet. We love experiencing the sights, sounds and flavors of a foreign country.
Jon: We like to look for places that are off the radar. We went to Vietnam last month — if you look at it, there is this growing tourism trade there and it’s a nice time to go. We like places that are far flung that you might not think about.
We read a lot of magazines and internet articles on places to go. I’ve been known to research the next destination while we are on a trip.
Where has been one of your favorite destinations?
Karen: Going on a safari in South Africa was magical. Our first trip to South Africa was just the two of us and we did the standard itinerary. It was so amazing we took our family there the next year for Christmas. It is one of the few places we liked enough to go back again.
Tell me about your impressive wine cellar.
Jon: I started enjoying wine toward the end of med school. A friend’s father had a wine cellar and it was the first time I had a good bottle of wine. I began reading and learning about wine. It also happened that when we traveled, many of the places we went were wine regions so I’d learn about the wine before I went. I’d order some wine and we needed somewhere to store the bottles.
We took pictures of wine cellars when we traveled and I looked in magazines to come up with our cellar’s glass design.
Do you have similar tastes in wine?
Jon: Yes, and they have evolved. Champagne is our favorite, but we really drink all types of wines. We are starting to enjoy wines that we didn’t used to, such as California Cabernet or Bordeaux, which are heavy red wines.
Karen: And it’s nice to drink a bottle of wine from the places we’ve traveled because they have a story behind them.
What do you think the next five or 10 years will look like for you?
Karen: We love what we do here and now, so I expect we will continue along this same path, growing our practices and pursuing new adventures. w