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A Day in the Life of a Primary Care Physician

November 10, 2022 Posted in: Primary Care  3 minute read time


The office opens at 8 a.m., but Benjamin Neltner, MD, primary care physician (PCP) with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Primary Care, is there 45 minutes early. With coffee in hand, Dr. Neltner gets to work immediately. His first task: preparing for the day.

“I start by ‘scrubbing’ patient charts — taking notes on patients’ health and developing potential plans to discuss during their visit,” he said. “Then I review lab and imaging tests from the day before so I can give patients results as soon as possible.”

With these tasks completed, Dr. Neltner barely has time to take a deep breath. The day begins in earnest with his first patient appointment at 8 a.m. sharp, and he’s ready to go.

More than a Dozen a Day

On a normal day, Dr. Neltner sees between 15 and 19 patients, and their needs vary widely. Because of the wide variety of expertise PCPs have, no two days are the same.

“Primary care deals with a lot more than physical exams and the common cold,” Dr. Neltner said. “We are trained to treat hundreds of diagnoses and recognize the need for specialty care.”

A routine day for Dr. Neltner may include a few physical exams, a Pap test, a corticosteroid knee injection, helping a depressed patient, weight loss medication counseling, infection testing, and end-of-life planning and counseling.

No matter why a patient is visiting, each appointment starts with Dr. Neltner reviewing his notes and asking about the patient’s goal for the visit. Based on this conversation, together they determine what ground they’ll cover — and then the journey begins. It may start with some diagnostic testing, in-depth conversations about healthier lifestyle choices and, in some cases, whether its time for a referral for specialty care.

At the end of their appointments, patients have clear steps they can take to start improving their health, and Dr. Neltner always asks his patients if he’s answered all of their questions before they head home.

“As a primary care physician, I treat patients at all stages of life and develop long-standing relationships with patients and their families,” he said. “Preserving and improving the quality of my patients’ lives is always my goal.”

Between patients, Dr. Neltner keeps moving. He refills prescriptions, responds to patient calls and reviews findings from specialists. At some point during the day, he takes a 15-minute break to grab a bite, and then spends the rest of his lunch hour calling patients.

“It’s one of the few times I have to reach patients on the phone,” Dr. Neltner said. “I like to take advantage of this time to catch up with patients to give test results and make sure they’re moving in a healthy direction.”

Winding Down

When the office closes at 6 p.m., Dr. Neltner heads home to be with his wife, pediatrician Caitlyn Neltner, MD. But leaving doesn’t mean his doctor brain shuts down. Like many, he admits it’s often difficult to disconnect from work, but says he’s getting better at it.

"Thankfully, because my wife is also a physician, we can decompress together about the joys and challenges of the day,” Dr. Neltner said.

He also has an 11-month-old daughter, Wylie, at home to greet him.

“Being a father has given me more perspective and appreciation for the sanctity of life,” Dr. Neltner said, “and the value of quality time with loved ones.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 print edition of Spirit of Health.

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