“It’s an act of God to take a dog to New Zealand,” said Camilla, telling me about her large-breed dogs making the trip from Alaska to New Zealand. The custom kennels, the quarantine, the comical-yet-realistic apprehension to, ahem, do their business in such a hurried public place having just come from the very private setting of their former Alaskan home. But dogs are happy when they’re with their people—people who care about them. And that is a roundabout way of introducing Camilla Petersen’s medical practice because people like people who really care about them, too.
Camilla Petersen, owner of Petersen Concierge Medical, likes to focus on overall wellness. And if you’re wondering what “concierge” medicine is, consider it an exclusive form of care that involves around-the-clock physician access. When Camilla first described this type of care, I had a vision of calling the family doctor out to the sprawling ranch in the rural countryside. The doctor would probably stay for dinner after checking on a newborn baby and tending to an ailing family member in their own bedroom. Sure, this vision is a bit different with an actual office space now, but the sentiment is wholly true. So how does one become particularly interested in this type of care? Camilla takes us around the globe before settling on the answer.
She was born in Northern Ukraine. Her family lived in an apartment building and she spent the first decade of her life living in the city until her parents immigrated to Rego Park in Queens, New York when she was 12 years old. Then they moved to Connecticut—to the suburbs where a dog was possible. A fenced yard. Commuting distance to a good job. The American Dream was looming. She went to college in Boston.
“I just followed the trajectory,” said Camilla with a smile that indicated her path would ultimately be anything but normal. “After University, I didn’t follow the trajectory. I went to Portland, Oregon, and went to naturopathic school. I became a naturopath. And then after that, I went to Africa because I could.”
Camilla landed in rural Senegal in West Africa before being swept away to Kenya through a vague job opportunity. But when you’re one of the youngest naturopaths and in your twenties, why not?
“To be fair, I wasn’t mature enough to be a really successful naturopath. You have to have some maturity and you have to settle down and open a private practice…so I picked up and went. I did rural clinics...You try to find your purpose,” said Camilla. With an “I’m going to save the world” outlook and attitude, she then got pulled to Colombia for a development project, which turned out to be unsuccessful, prompting the question, “What do I do now?”
After seeing some of the challenges rural places faced with acquiring and maintaining skilled medical workers, Camilla became interested in developmental policy and sought opportunities in developmental projects in public health. She wasn’t yet ready to have a private practice but she became increasingly aware of her strong one-on-one skills.
“When I was in Africa, you could drop me in the middle of the Maasai village and I could have a personal relationship with somebody,” said Camilla. “You could drop me in the middle of the Colombian jungle—even with my poor Spanish, I was still able to work in the clinic. One-on-one was always my strength.”
With guidance from the same mentor who encouraged her naturopathic direction, Camilla realized there would be abundant opportunities if she went to medical school. So, she enrolled—at a five square mile island off the coast of Saint Martin in the Caribbean Sea.
“It’s a rock in the middle of the ocean, which actually also happens to be a National Forest. It really is paradise,” said Camilla. “And that’s where I met my husband.” Tom was a professional diver and boat captain and Camilla lived above a diving shop. And when two adventurers meet, the rest is not history. It's the future.
Their next adventure took them to rural Denmark, where Tom is from, to get married. Then the couple moved to Louisiana, south of New Orleans to the bayou. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel all across this country and been lucky enough to really appreciate the different people who live here and the different cultures that interject,” said Camilla. But the imminent private practice part of Camilla’s life started to take shape organically on that small Caribbean island when she started seeing patients once a week. “That whole idea of being in a small environment and being able to really take care of our people and really invest in the community…that’s something I do really well.”
The settling down part of her life pointed her toward the things that really matter: family, community, relationships. She applied to family medicine programs, which led her to Alaska. Back to our first story, involving the dogs. “I ended up moving to New Zealand with a 4-week-old baby boy,” said Camilla. “If you look at a world map, it’s right there,” she said, pointing her finger low on an imaginary orb. She was living her dream as a rural doctor, which is exactly what she spent her time in Alaska preparing for.
“I really got to see what one person can do within a community,” said Camilla. Her entire career had prepared her for the questions that we sometimes ask ourselves later in our lives—the what-ifs. For Camilla, it was an experience seeking journey, and those experiences expose what she was called to do, so by the time the private practice part of her life closed in on her, she was right where she needed to be: Missoula, Montana.
“We’re in the mountains, we can live out of town and commute in, there’s wildlife, it’s a good place for kids to grow up,” said Camilla, who has since had a baby girl—the first Montana-born human in her young family. Petersen Concierge Medical is founded on the notion that medical care can be personalized and comprehensive, and your personal relationship with your physician can lead to a focus on optimal health and well-being based on individuality. And where might our lives lead us if we can be our best selves?
“That whole idea of being in a small environment and being able to really take care of our people and really invest in the community…that’s something I do really well.” - Camilla Petersen
Petersen Concierge Medical
2315 McDonald Avenue, Suite 110