There’s not much Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger isn’t involved in as the only physician in Leadville, Colorado. She built the town’s largest medical office building, is the medical advisor to the local public school district as well as Colorado Mountain College and Outward Bound, and she works closely with the county health department. Plus, her medical practice manages more than 7,500 patient visits each year.
Overwhelming? Not for Dr. Zwerdlinger.
“In a town like Leadville, with a population of just 4,000, there’s a real opportunity for physicians to affect change, become a community leader and influence the entire local community,” she said. “I like being a big fish in a little pond.”
Dr. Zwerdlinger has made significant strides in bringing modern, updated, evidence-based medicine to Leadville. It’s all too common in rural communities for new techniques, best practices, quality improvements and other critical evidence-based developments to get waylaid. In most cases, critical information that truly affects the delivery of medicine is released to large, urban communities first, meaning rural providers don’t always have access to the latest information available to serve their patients. Dr. Zwerdlinger credits organizations such as COPIC for ensuring that even rural physicians have a chance to learn, grow and continue their medical education.
“From my perspective, ensuring that evidence-based medicine comes to Leadville and is practiced not just by me, but by all the health organizations and providers in town, is crucial,” she said. “That’s truly my passion and my calling – to bring this new standard of medicine to our community.”
Dr. Zwerdlinger is a trailblazer in this regard, as well as in the fact that she’s Leadville’s first female physician. And trailblazing seems to be her motto: She and her family recently visited Africa as her husband taught on a Fulbright to local healthcare students. Her husband, a professor at Colorado State University, manages the bulk of the family’s commitments including caring for their two school-age children.
“I love my job, I truly do. I hear so often of physicians in rural communities who are stressed financially and pinched by the realities of practicing in a small community. I feel for them.”
Dr. Zwerdlinger hopes she can reverse the stereotypes and help other doctors by demonstrating success. She is a professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and has a steady stream of medical students and resident physicians who try to keep up with her. “There’s a paucity of providers in rural areas. I’m hopeful that teaching by example, some will be interested and come back. We do good work and have a lot of fun out here.”
“We’re set up to ensure the regular barriers to access to medical care are obliterated,” she continued. She accepts a mix of both uninsured, public and private insurances, and her practice always has a bilingual practitioner/staff in the office, so patients aren’t hindered by language barriers. Dr. Zwerdlinger has formed strong partnerships with other providers and colleagues, so she has a network of specialists and resources to help her.
“I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. In a community like Leadville, I can see the results of my work and truly be a part of this town’s leadership. I love being a physician.”
Be a part of the conversation. One of the best ways you can help affect legislation to promote health care expansion into rural and under-served Colorado communities is to contact your legislator. Click here to take action.