Dr. Nate Tritle’s mantra is simple: “If I’m not having fun, I’m not doing it.”
In his more than 20 years of working with ears, noses and throats, Tritle has not stopped enjoying even the unappealing parts of his work and the environment where he gets to do it.
With a grin, Tritle said that he and Flagstaff’s four other ear, nose and throat doctors (or otolaryngologists) often help patients by digging out ear wax and picking noses – and they have fun doing it.
This longstanding cheerfulness through all tasks has helped earn Tritle the award for the 2019 Nathan Avery Physician of the Year. He was recognized at a ceremony Friday afternoon.
Tritle said the award is an honor for a physician of his particular talents.
“Ear, nose and throat doctors don’t usually get a lot of notoriety because we do weird things that just don’t seem very glamorous,” he said.
Tritle is a member of the Flagstaff Surgical Associates and works at both the Flagstaff Medical Center and Forest Canyon Surgery Center, with a role that extends far beyond ear wax and boogers.
About half of his time is spent visiting patients (he sees up to 30 each day) and the other half is spent in surgery, doing anything from removing tonsils to opening up a patient’s airways so they can breathe.
Dr. Dan Kaminskas and Dr. John Marvel, two anesthesiologists who work with Tritle during these surgeries, agreed that Tritle exemplifies the qualities of Physician of the Year, a title that has been given out to one excelling doctor every year since 1993 through nominations from physicians and other hospital staff, volunteers and board members.
“He cares about his patients, striving to give the best care possible. He is well respected amongst his colleagues. Nate is the real deal,” Kaminskas said.
“He’s loved by his patients, he’s well-respected by his peers, he keeps up-to-date, he brings humor and balance to his practice, and he makes awesome duct tape wallets.” Marvel said.
Tritle was close friends with Nathan Avery, a neurosurgeon who became the namesake for the annual physician’s award after he received it posthumously in 2013. Avery grew up in Flagstaff and helped to develop the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
One of Tritle’s best work-related memories was when he and Avery starred in a Discovery Channel feature about a young patient they were able to save after a deadly fall. Becoming actors for a day was difficult, Tritle said, because the two doctors preferred doing the real thing to pretending.
Tritle’s favorite part of his job is working with thyroid glands, especially when it involves removing cancer, because it’s a tricky procedure that allows him to use a passion he has had since childhood, when he lived on a farm in Iowa.
“I just love to fix things. If something is broken, I always try to fix it. I can’t always fix it, but I always try, whether it’s a car or a bike or a person,” he said.
A career of attempting to “fix” people comes with challenges like a packed schedule and extra late-night visits to the hospital, but it also brings its own rewards.
Tritle spoke of his working environment like a second home, with co-workers becoming family in the nearly 20 years since he and his wife, a high school counselor, first moved to Flagstaff.
In surgery, for example, he said no one is really in charge or barking orders; instead, each person’s job complements the others’, even when there are up to 15 people in the room at once.
“I’m a product of this place. I think if I were to take my job and do it somewhere else, it would be weird. What I do here fits here,” Tritle said.
The puzzle of Tritle’s work unites him with not only local medics, but also his family. His two children grew up visiting the hospital with him, helping wherever possible and getting to know everyone who works there.
When his daughter was young, Tritle said he would bring her with him as a sort of “pet therapy” because her presence alone could make an ailing patient smile.
Now, though Tritle said both of his children have schedules as busy as his own, the two teenagers still join their dad at work whenever they can.
Making the most of his time – spent with his family, co-workers and patients – is a priority for Tritle and a distinguishing factor in his life. He encourages other doctors to do the same.
“Take every moment you can and just run with it,” Tritle said. “You should always help out when you can. There’s no job too big or too small. If that’s your approach, you’ll find happiness and success,” he said.