Spotlight on Retiring Faculty Carolyn Torkelson, MD, MS

This November we bid farewell to Carolyn Torkelson, MD, MS, as she retires from her role as associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. After nearly 30 years in practice, Dr. Torkelson leaves behind a legacy of dedication, innovation, and passion in the fields of women's health and integrative care.

Dr. Torkelson has time and again proven herself a pioneer. Take, for instance, her dedication to advocating for developing areas of interest in mature women's health, breast health, and integrative services.

"We need to think about the role we can play in midlife women's health—how a whole systems approach to health can have a positive impact on many patients," she says. "Family medicine has the potential to specialize in areas that are not well represented, such as integrative healthcare and mature women's health."

And that is precisely what Dr. Torkelson has devoted her career to: helping to bridge the gap between women's integrative healthcare needs and the quality of care they receive.

She started out as a nurse practitioner, then entered medical school and became a family medicine physician after completing her residency at the University of Minnesota Methodist Hospital. While practicing full-spectrum primary care at Park Nicollet, Dr. Torkelson continued to actively champion integrative healthcare modalities and mature women's health. In those early days, her passion for integrative modes of healthcare—such as acupuncture, herbalism, and massage therapy—were not necessarily embraced by either society or the medical community. Yet she persisted, signing on to co-chair the Minnesota Holistic Medicine Group with William D. Manahan, MD.

Dr. Torkelson's desire to contribute even more to the field of integrative medicine led her to the University of Minnesota to complete a fellowship in clinical research, which included clinical work and precepting at Smiley's family medicine residency program. Her research led to dozens of publications in her areas of interest, including articles on green tea extract's effects on breast health/QOL in postmenopausal women and Trametes versicolar in breast cancer care.

In 2004, the University was awarded funding for a Women's Health Center of Excellence, and Dr. Torkelson became the primary care provider at the Women's Health Clinic—after successfully negotiating for a role that let her incorporate holistic care into her practice. In 2012, Dr. Torkelson was instrumental in launching Women's Health Specialists, offering comprehensive, integrated services for women of all ages. She accepted a role as medical director of integrative services and, since then, she has continued to offer holistic primary care to women and succeeded in bringing on board the first full-time acupuncturist at the CSC.

"In my practice I see really wonderful women who are so empowered, excited, and engaged in their health. My wish would be for others to continue the mission of mature women's health, because there is such a need and demand."

More women are realizing that there is a rich and full life to be lived beyond their reproductive years. More women are also seeking out complementary forms of care just as more primary care providers are introducing integrative modalities into their practice. The momentum is building, and Dr. Torkelson would love to see it continue.

What's next for Dr. Torkelson? She plans to write a book focused on women's health and how women learn using women's stories and integrative approaches to create a narrative that can demonstrate how to optimize health as one ages. "I have been called 'the voice of normalcy for mature women,'" she says with a smile. With that in mind, she shares that her goal is to "write about the other side of menopause from an integrative perspective."

Dr. Torkelson feels confident that young providers will share her passion and carry forward a thoughtful, integrative approach to mature women's healthcare. It's a call to action that she feels is vitally important to impress into the hearts and minds of family medicine practitioners, now and for the future.

In my practice I see really wonderful women who are so empowered, excited, and engaged in their health. My wish would be for others to continue the mission of mature women's health, because there is such a need and demand.

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