Getting to know rural physician Dr. Christopher Hughes

Christopher Hughes, ‘19, reflects on his time as a medical student and offers advice to the next generation of physician-scientists.

Christopher Hughes, MD, graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth, in 2019. Today, he is a Family Practice doctor at Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin, MN, where his connections to the local community are strong.

Why did you choose to become a physician? Have you always wanted to work for the local community where you grew up?

Dr. Hughes: What made me want to be a physician was watching it growing up. My dad was a Family Practice doctor in the community, so I saw him practicing, relationships he formed with patients and medicine in general. When I got into undergrad, I got a nursing assistant position at the hospital. That [position] made me want to pursue it more—working in a hospital, being involved with patient care and seeing what medicine is and what you can do with the science of medicine. The other part of medicine—as far as the relationships you build with people—drove me to medicine. As I got through classes, I also enjoyed the science behind things.

As far as returning to my home community, I was more of a small-town kid. I did my undergrad in Duluth and my first two years of medical school in Duluth, too, where you have a smaller class size and a more tight-knit community. Being down in the Cities, you get a bit lost in the shuffle, so I always thought I’d probably end up somewhere smaller. My training was more community-focused, and I was in a smaller setting. I like that rather than being in a big organization where you feel like another fish in the sea or another number. That drove me to return to a smaller community where you have tight connections and can impact the community, especially for people in a smaller community where there are sometimes not as many resources right at hand.

What are you most proud of when you reflect on your time at U of M Medical School?

Dr. Hughes: I enjoyed my connections with other students and my relationships with my classmates during medical school. I enjoyed that aspect during the first two years, which was more classroom training. It’s like everyone's on the same track or going through the same things. Then once we got into third or fourth year rotations, I was proud of and enjoyed the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP). I did RPAP in Staples, MN, which is another small community, kind of near my hometown of Aitkin, MN. That was a significant accomplishment for me - my time and my impact during RPAP - because I had great preceptors that let me get hands-on and involved in patient care. I felt like I was a part of the team there. I got to assist with surgeries and help with deliveries too. I think that laid some groundwork, having been in a small community for nine months and knowing that’s where I want to see myself.

What’s going on in your life now that’s significant that you want people to know about?

Dr. Hughes: My biggest life step right now is having my daughter, who’s a year and a half old. It’s fun to be a dad, spend time with her, watch her get into trouble and be a little bit of a troublemaker. She’s starting to be more mobile. I also have more time, being out of residency now. As most people know, residency is pretty brutal regarding time requirements. So being a dad right now is what I'm most proud of and what’s significant in my life.

What is your advice to the next generation of physician-scientists?

Dr. Hughes: Work hard and know your dreams and goals are achievable. Whatever you want to do in life, it’s out there, and you can do it. You just have to figure out the way to do it. Because that’s kind of the thing with medicine, it always feels like it’s some sort of like a slog. Like “I have this rotation and that rotation,” and it’s long hours. Sometimes it gets hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but just knowing that [the light is] there and eventually, things get a little better once you get to that point.