Top of her field: Mitchell physician Mandi Greenway Bietz honored by SD peers as young standout
The honor goes to a physician under age 40 or within the first eight years of professional practice after residency and fellowship training, which is recognized for outstanding achievements, dedication and service to the community and the SDSMA at the local, state and national levels.
MITCHELL — The advocacy never stops for Dr. Mandi Greenway Bietz.
Whether it’s helping farmers protect themselves from skin cancer, warning of the dangers of tanning beds or guiding medical students about a prospective career in dermatology, Greenway Bietz enjoys sharing the benefits and wisdom of her job.
And her peers have recognized her efforts. Earlier this year, Greenway Bietz, 36, was awarded the South Dakota State Medical Association’s Outstanding Young Physician award. The honor goes to a physician under age 40 or within the first eight years of professional practice after residency and fellowship training, which is recognized for outstanding achievements, dedication and service to the community and the SDSMA at the local, state and national levels.
She has worked at Avera in Mitchell since 2016, where she landed after medical school at the University of South Dakota and completing her dermatology residency.
Greenway Bietz said she considered it an honor to be nominated, something she didn’t even know about until she joined her roughly 2,000 SDSMA member-colleagues in voting for the annual awards and opened up the ballot.
She was nominated by University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine Dean Dr. Tim Ridgway, someone Greenway Bietz said she learned from while in medical school and whom she respects greatly. Ridgway told Greenway Bietz that he recognized her efforts in getting more involved with teaching young medical students, helping them get into dermatology residencies, along with making more community presentations on dermatology topics.
“A lot of times it’s hard for us to see the things we’re doing, and it’s easier to recognize it when it’s someone else,” she said. “I guess it was just exciting to know that some of the things I’ve been doing have been recognized.”
Greenway Bietz, who said she sees 32 patients a day when she has clinic hours, recalls wanting to be a doctor since she was in the sixth grade, fulfilling a love for science and seeing how the human body worked. It was in her third year of medical school that a desire to be a dermatologist came into view.
“It combined everything I loved about medicine,” she said. “People care about their skin … how it looks and feels and it’s a huge part of a person’s quality of life.”
Greenway Bietz said having the local connections — living in the Mitchell area and going to high school in Mount Vernon — is usually helpful with her interactions with patients, knowing about area communities, schools and sports teams. With her husband, Cris, her family has three young children.
“It’s an instant connection and we can start at a point of a little more trust that we can build on in the doctor-patient relationship,” she said of the small-town roots.
She continues to love dermatology, she said, because it involves a bond with patients that you can’t get elsewhere.
“I see a lot of patients every day and I can spend an hour with a patient. It’s a privilege to be allowed in that person’s life and they will tell you things that they don’t tell their own family. You’re able to affect their lives in a very special way and see the wide range of people, whether it’s newborn babies or 102-year-old skin cancer patients.”
Because nearly all of her surgeries can be done with a local numbing agent and on an outpatient basis, where a patient will be conscious, she will put on whatever a patient’s favorite music is for those procedures. That can be done within reason, she joked.
“I’ll have patients ask if I will play some polka and I tell them, ‘I don’t know if I can listen to polka for an hour,’” she said.
Throughout her young career, Greenway Bietz has been involved with mentoring medical students, something that has progressed further in recent years. As of late, she has had USD medical students from Sioux Falls or Yankton come to her clinic every day for up to four weeks as part of a clinical rotation.
In some cases, Greenway Bietz has taken on an advisory role for students, saving up interesting cases for those students to learn from and frequently having a debrief to go over what they saw during a day of patient visits.
“It’s been a surprising turn in my career, but it’s something I really enjoy, to get to share what makes this job so great and rewarding,” she said.
Meeting a challenge
The COVID-19 pandemic also provided challenges for Greenway Bietz, primarily outside of her patient visits. She was one of the Avera physicians who spoke publicly in support of community health measures in South Dakota and in Mitchell to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which included a city mask mandate in late 2020. She said the reaction of the COVID-19 pandemic from some members of the public has allowed trust in medicine and doctors to be eroded.
“It’s also been hard for me when patients are coming in for whatever skin disease they have and they trust me, but when I ask them about getting the vaccine, I hear that doctors are lying to us, companies are lying to us,” she said. “It’s been really hard to bridge that gap. How can you trust me to treat your cancer and not think I have your best interest at heart? It’s been unfortunate and it’s hard."
Even with the difficulty in interactions with the public, Greenway Bietz said she has no regrets about putting her voice out there.
“My job as a physician is to practice evidence-based medicine and to listen to the science. And the science was clear and continues to be clear. As it evolves, we change. That’s science. … Coming from here, I know that my family might get pushback and my patient base might not be happy and I might lose some patients in the process but being silent is a statement as well, and I couldn’t do that.”
She is not afraid to advocate for what her education and her knowledge as a doctor has taught her about skin health. In her office, she has large signage that says “PEACE LOVE SPF,” and has frequently spoken to community groups about skin care and protecting themselves against possible damage to their skin. That has included advocating for farmers and those who are outside for many hours to wear wide-brimmed hats to cut down on the chances of developing cancer on the head and neck.
Greenway Bietz said she would like to become more involved with the SDSMA and with setting policy. In particular, she wants South Dakota to adopt legislation that would restrict tanning bed usage among minors. She said her daily work includes treating teenagers and young adults with skin cancer.
“When we’re young, we feel invincible. The threat of cancer doesn’t come across very often. I’ve used a tanning bed in the past. It’s not about shaming people. We all do better when we know better,” she said.