by DEREK HELMS
photos by STEPHEN HERTZOG
When Dr. Kristen Evans enters into one of Lawrence Pediatrics’ bright,
airy clinic rooms, the energy of the room changes. Dr. Evans physical
stature certainly isn’t imposing. Her shoulderlength auburn hair and wire-rimmed glasses top a petite frame that may not stand a chance against
a strong wind. But her smile changes things. Her eyes squint slightly
as an unrestrained grin begets a full smile. It’s the type of smile that lets
a nervous child know that every thing will be all right.
Combining extensive experience, her entrepreneurial spirit and that comforting smile, Dr. Evans opened Lawrence Pediatrics (543 Lawrence Avenue, Suite D) in October.
“I guess when you really love what you do, it’s easy to smile.”
Dr. Evans’ path to Lawrence Pediatrics was far from straight. As one of 5 kids growing up in the Northeast (Maine), Dr. Evans was part of a very academic family. Both parents were teachers, and all of her siblings currently work in academia. A campus life seemed to be in the works for Dr. Evans, who holds a Ph D in Ancient Achilles.
“I’m really the black sheep of the family,” Dr. Evans says with a laugh. “At Thanksgiving my parents and siblings sit around and make fun of me.”
While on staff at William Jewell University, Dr. Evans felt an itch for something different.
“I knew I wasn’t doing what I really loved,” Dr. Evans says. “I really enjoyed my work, but there was a big part of me that knew it wasn’t the career I wanted. I’ve always wanted to make a direct impact, and I felt a little unsatisfied.”
Dr. Evans made a decision. She has had an interest in medicine since she was a young girl, and knew that if she was going to make
achange, she needed to get started. “I’ve
never been one to dip my toe,” Dr. Evans says.
“Once the idea of studying medicine emerged,
I knew I would give it all I had.”
Evans received her medical degree from, and completed her residency at, the University of Kansas Medical School. She specialized in pediatric care. “I’ve always wanted to help kids,” says
Evans. “I didn’t want to work in a family practice because I wanted to be able to really concentrate
on helping kids. I have a tremendous respect for family physicians, but I knew I could best utilize
my talents by focusing on pediatrics.”
After graduation, Evans jumped at the opportunity to work in Topeka as a pediatric hospitalist.
Hospitalists are a select type of pediatrician. They care for children in many hospital areas, including the pediatric ward, labor and delivery, the newborn nursery, the emergency department, the neonatal intensive care unit and the pediatric intensive care unit. Pediatric hospitalists work alongside a family’s pediatrician and other physicians and providers involved in a child’s care.
Dr. Evans loved the challenge.
“Working as a hospitalist is an incredible experience,” Dr. Evans says. “You really must be at your best at all times, because if these children are in your hospital, they are in rough shape. It is a very taxing position and one that made me appreciate the people around me, both professionally and personally.”
In early 2003, Dr. Evans’ husband accepted a position as the director of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. Dr. Evans and her family (2 children) settled in and Kirsten worked
in a Virginia pediatric office. Their time on the East coast was shortlived, however.
“I loved being back east, because it was familiar to me,” Dr. Evans says. “My kids, however, really didn’t enjoy it. They are Lawrence kids, born and bred. They really love it here and both my husband and I love it too. We decided Lawrence was home. When his tenure was up, we moved back
Back in Lawrence, Dr. Evans signed on with the KU
School of Medicine as a faculty member in the school’s pediatric department.
“Yes, my parents and siblings thought I had finally made something of myself,” Dr. Evans says with a genuine laugh.
While working in Topeka, Dr. Evans had built a reputation as an outstanding pediatric hospitalist. When Topeka hospital Stormont-Vail
Dr. Evans to head their new pediatric hospitalists program.
“Getting that call was really unexpected,” Dr. Evans says. “I jumped at the opportunity to form a group of dedicated, talented people willing to work hard to help kids. It was a fantastic experience and I know we did a lot of good for a lot of kids and their families.”
Dr. Evans spent two years putting together a top-notch hospitalist team for Stormont-Vail, working tirelessly for the betterment of the patients.
“I am so proud of the work our team did,” Dr. Evans says. “Ultimately, though, I started to wear out. It’s incredibly taxing knowing how sick those kids are and what type of battles they are fighting.
I went to work every day dedicated to doing everything I could the help those kids get better. When
a child recovered and left the hospital, it was exalting. But when a child and family lost their battle,
it was absolutely devastating.”
Living in Lawrence since 1989, Dr. Evans knew there was a shortage of pediatricians in town. Countless friends and acquaintances had expressed their frustration and “gently poked” Dr. Evans about the idea of opening an office.
“I’ve always thought about being a family pediatrician,” Dr. Evans admits. “The idea of seeing kids and families grow and helping them stay healthy, not just struggle to get back to healthy, was a very compelling thought. As a hospitalist, I often got very close to families, but it was under unfortunate
circumstances and didn’t always end well. I’m excited about getting to know families under new conditions and in a less stressful environment.”
In the spring of 2011, Dr. Evans made the decision to open her own pediatric office in Lawrence.
“Last winter was especially tough,” she says. “We had an unusual number of terminally ill kids that needed to transfer to Children’s Mercy, and too many deaths. It was too upsetting for me. Though
a part of me felt like I was giving up, I know I can help kids and families in Lawrence.”
Dr. Evans had never started a business before, but her husband has a successful streak of entrepreneurship. After running the numbers, doing extensive market research and meeting with multiple banks to discuss start-up loans and conditions, Dr. Evans and her husband decided
to self-finance the endeavor.
“It was a tough decision, but we really like knowing that this is completely on our backs,” Dr. Evans says. “We have a solid business plan and are very confident in our investment.”
Months were spent getting the needed equipment, licenses and insurance in place. Dr. Evans worked with Allison Vance Moore to find the perfect office. When they walked into the space at the corner of Lawrence and 6th Street, they both knew it was a match. “I hate to over dramatize it, but as soon as we walked in, we knew this was the space,” Dr. Evans says.
Staffing was, according to Dr. Evans, one of the easiest parts of her start-up equation. While still at Stormont-Vail, she recruited a few of the nurses they had grown to trust, and they were happy to follow Dr. Evans into private practice.
After meeting Lori Watson in an interview, Dr. Evans knew she was exactly the person she needed to run the office.
“We really clicked, right away,” says Watson, whose bright smile greets families entering the office. “After the initial phone conversation discussing the job, I think we both knew this was going to work. The few months we’ve been open have been great. Dr. Evans is always asking ‘is this good for the kids?’ or ‘Will this help our patients?’ She’s totally dedicated to helping the families that come here. It’s easy to be motivated to come into work.”
Watson’s experience with medical billing, dealing with insurance claims and her general cheery disposition were just what Dr. Evans needed to complete her staff.
“When you meet her, you can’t help but like her,” Dr. Evans says with a smile. “She’s the perfect person to help our new patients get comfortable with us and our office. She’s great.”
In November, Dr. Evans opened Lawrence Pediatrics to the public. In true start-up fashion, the top priority has been getting “clients” into the building. Traffic has been steadily building thanks to word-of-mouth and minor social media advertising.
“It’s scary,” Dr. Evans says. “The day we opened we didn’t have a single patient file. But, that’s the risk. I’m confident in our ability to provide top-notch care for families and, so far, word-of-mouth has supported that. Many people have expressed how happy they are to have more choices for pediatric care, and we’re happy to help.” As business grows, Dr. Evans isn’t content to stay put.
“I have 5-year and 10-year plans,” she says. “When we establish ourselves as an excellent choice for pediatric care, there’s no reason we can’t expand, within reason.”
Dr. Evans smiles when she speaks about her past, her current adventure and the future possibilities. The idea of growing a new business is exciting, but that’s not what makes her smile the most. “Being able to see children grow is exciting,” she says as she flashes her big smile. “Being a part of helping families through the bad and the good times is such a great part of life.”