Doc settles down
Dr. Michael Fealk followed winding road before joining local practice
Dr. Michael Fealk has taken a long, strange trip to practicing colorectal surgery in Chico.
California is his sixth state of residence. Fealk (pronounced “Felk") grew up in Michigan, where he also went to college and studied pre-med. He moved to Arizona for law school—yes, law school—before switching back to medicine and attending medical school in Missouri. He returned to Arizona for hospital rotations, and then headed to Ohio for surgical study and to Pennsylvania for specialty instruction in colon and rectal surgery surgery. Fealk is board-certified in colon and rectal surgery.
He began practicing in New Mexico. Four years later, he was in Ohio again. This past November, he moved to California—the state of his wife’s birth—and joined the father-son team of Dr. Joe Matthews and Dr. Doug Matthews in their Chico surgical practice.
In his second career, and latest location, Fealk seems to have found a home.
“Having worked in private practice, been employed by a hospital, I realized probably the most important thing for me is having partners who are like-minded,” Fealk, 46, said in a recent phone interview. “I had talked to the Matthewses on the phone, and I got a chance to meet them, and we just immediately got along. It was clear to me that these were guys who were more worried about their patients than their paychecks, and it was a nice break from what I had seen. …
“And when we came out to the town, the town immediately sold itself.”
Likewise, Chico’s colorectal surgeons were quickly sold on Fealk. The Matthewses sought a long-term partner—Joe is nearing retirement; Doug is just two years into practicing—yet didn’t hesitate on account of Fealk’s migrations.
“When you learn the kind of person he is, I had no reservations about him [having moved around],” Doug Matthews said. “The challenge in our current environment of medicine is that it’s very rare for a physician or a surgeon to land in one place and spend the rest of their career in that place.
“He’s a very close match to the priorities that the other two colorectal surgeons in the office have … and I expect him to stay for a long time.”
Fealk’s expertise includes robotic surgery and minimally invasive techniques. He’s also introduced an in-office hemorrhoid treatment known as IRC, or infrared coagulation, in which a special light shrinks blood vessels leading into the hemorrhoids.
“I’ve found that the number of patients I’ve needed to take to the operating room to treat their hemorrhoids is quite low,” Fealk said. “We use this [IRC procedure] as something to help with the conservative management, to decrease, if not totally remove, the hemorrhoid symptoms.”
Though Fealk ultimately found fulfillment in medicine, he spent most of his 20s torn between professions. His father, an attorney, advised him to “be a doctor, don’t be a lawyer—people will always be sick.” Not surprisingly, then, Fealk went to the University of Michigan intending to become a physician.
He wasn’t too excited by the pre-med curriculum, though. He did enjoy research, and after graduation, he worked for a year in a neuropsychology lab. Realizing where the scientist path would lead—studying for a PhD, and spending long workdays in laboratories—Fealk instead opted for law school.
His best friend, Mazin Al-Kasspooles, was heading to Arizona State University for medical training. That was one of the schools that accepted Fealk, so he came along. As fate would have it, on the first day of class, he met the woman he’d later marry. (He and Janet have twin sons who turned 4 in December.)
Fealk flourished as a law student, receiving a fellowship that included postings with local, state and federal prosecutors. He was well-set for a career in criminal law.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “when the job offer finally came, I had become disillusioned with the government practice. My buddy [Mazin had attended] surgical residency in Phoenix, and I was seeing a lot of him, and we would be talking about what he was doing.”
Those discussions captivated him. Fealk told Janet, “I kind of gave up on medicine too quickly.” He studied for the MCAT, got accepted to osteopathic medicine school and left the law behind.
“It is very handy to have someone in the office who has studied law,” Matthews explained. “Have we leaned on him for true legal advice? No. But it’s very handy during negotiations or looking at contracts or even talking about patients to say, ‘What does your other hat think of this?’ He obviously has wisdom from seeing things in a different light.”
Nonetheless, Fealk is laser-focused on medicine. His grandfather survived colorectal cancer; he wants to fight that illness—or, even better, prevent it.
“It’s amazing how many patients we see who haven’t had the colonoscopy when they’re supposed to,” Fealk said, “and have these diagnoses that we often could spare them. The nation is about 50 percent compliant with the screening guidelines … and I think with a small town like this, if we focus on it, we could make a difference.”
March happens to be National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a time when advocates make a concentrated push for increased screenings.
“It’s a big deal. Colon cancer is preventable and treatable if you catch things early. When the disease is further along, it’s much more difficult to treat.”