Their personalities are far from similar, but Stu and Leslie Christenson take advantage of their differences to complement each other, at work and at home.
Stu and Leslie Christenson both grew up on Iowa farms and attended Iowa State University. They share deep faith and a passion for medicine and family, but for this happily married couple, it was the opposites that attracted them to one another.
Leslie Christenson, M.D., who is outgoing and emotional and enjoys research, chose dermatological surgery as her specialty. Stu Christenson, M.D., who is considered more reserved and is interested more in one-on-one patient care, chose to pursue cardiology. They each appreciate the other’s strengths and rely on their differences to help them succeed as physicians, parents and spouses.
Working Separately, Together
Stu and Leslie began dating during college, and both shared similar goals to become physicians. After graduating from Iowa State, Stu was accepted to attend University of Iowa Medical School, and Leslie, a year behind him in school, was accepted to the same school a year later.
“I’d love to say that it was love that made my decision to go to Iowa,” Leslie says. “But I had interviewed at a few other places, and the in-state tuition was just too appealing. Stu and I had started dating, but our main focus was really our careers.”
Throughout medical school, the two supported each other through rigorous coursework and found time to spend together while studying.
“Sometimes we’d go to this room and sit at opposite ends of this long table to study,” Leslie says. “We’d take five-minute breaks and go on walks. I was a year behind Stu in school, so he let me use his notes, which was very nice.”
But according to Stu, she never needed his notes, and he says that sometimes Leslie was the one teaching him. As the couple continued their medical school education, they consulted one another as they chose very different career paths.
“We supported each other, but we knew we were going in opposite directions,” Stu says. “We have very different personalities, and we both based our specialties on that.”
The Christensons completed their residencies at the University of Iowa, then headed to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where Leslie completed fellowships in skin cancer research, Mohs micrographic surgery and cutaneous oncology, while Stu completed a cardiology fellowship and practiced medicine.
Dermatological surgery and cardiology rarely overlap, but Stu and Leslie found an opportunity to collaborate on an article about the management of pacemakers in outpatient surgery, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“We had so much fun working together,” Leslie says. “I love the research aspect of it, and Stu is always thinking about patient care, so we also work well together.”
The couple practiced medicine at the Mayo Clinic for about four years and bought their dream home during the process. While Leslie was thriving on dermatological research and Stu was working on a variety of cardiology cases, something was missing from both their professional and personal lives.
“Many people who come to the Mayo Clinic fly in from all over the country,” Leslie says. “Stu wanted to contribute to a community where he could have a continual relationship with patients.”
Stu agrees. “I wanted to be able to walk into the grocery store and know my patients, to see how they’re doing on a more frequent basis. I also wanted to be closer to my family–ideally to be back in Iowa.”
Although moving back to Iowa meant giving up their dream home in Minnesota and prestigious careers at the Mayo Clinic, the Christensons were pleasantly surprised at how quickly they were accepted as part of the Mary Greeley Medical Center community.
“There was an influx of new physicians at the medical center around the same time that we moved to Ames,” Leslie says. “It seemed like we all ended up in the same neighborhood, which has provided a great support system for the physicians.”
The Christensons, who have three children under the age of 10, say that the community of physicians and families support each other, whether they’re supervising each other’s kids while the others are on call, or simply socializing with one another outside the workplace.
“Our neighbors understand the stress that we’re under,” Stu says. “They know that we can be called away for work or that we may be stressing over a difficult case.”
Although they appreciate the support system of their physician network, Stu and Leslie also value the relationships they’ve built through Bible studies and with the families of their children’s friends.
“We constantly rely on our faith,” Leslie says. “We pray about work and family constantly, and that’s something that we share with one another.”
Work, Family and Faith
Both Christensons practice medical specialties that require an incredible amount of time, energy and research. Though much of their time is spent working with patients, they both cherish the moments they spend together with their children.
“Sometimes the kids will hop into my bed in the morning while I’m getting ready for work,” Leslie says. “I’ll hear the kids reading stories to each other, and that just makes life so much more worth it.”
The Christensons also enjoy family outings to Iowa State University athletic events and attending country concerts together. For them, finding fulfillment means attaining a balance between work, family and faith.
“Some people tell us we must be so crazy busy as two physicians who work demanding jobs with three kids,” Stu says. “But I think about other families, and I know there are people out there swinging two jobs to cover their bills. We are very fortunate to be doing what we do, and I think that keeps us very humble.”