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February 2016 Member of the Month

Catherine Gutfreund, MD

Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, Catherine Gutfreund, MD, received her undergraduate degree in microbiology at the University of Georgia before attending medical school at the Medical College of Georgia on a military scholarship.

Dr. Gutfreund now lives in Windsor, California and practices at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa. In addition to her clinical work, she is committed to legislative advocacy on behalf of family medicine. Dr. Gutfreund recently gave testimony on SB 277, a bill that ended personal belief exemptions for childhood vaccinations. “I encourage everyone to become a key contact,” Dr. Gutfreund says. “It only takes a few minutes to call or email about an issue and your input can make a major difference.”


Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it?

I came to family medicine in a roundabout way. I almost completed a Head and Neck Surgery (ENT) residency in the US Army, but left prior to finishing due to an injury and ensuing personal reasons. I enjoy doing procedures and the instant gratification of fixing a problem. However, what really draws me to family medicine are the relationships with my patients.  I love taking care of multigenerational families, birth to death, managing most of their health issues and being a part of their lives.  


Were you inspired by anyone to pursue family medicine?

I spent two years as a General Medical Officer in Wiesbaden, Germany after my ENT residency.  I worked with some fantastic family medicine doctors. They taught me a lot and encouraged me to do a family medicine residency. In addition, my great aunt was a family physician at the turn of the century in Cincinnati.  While I never met her, the stories about her were inspiring.   


What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?

Early on in my career, I had an elderly patient who came to me complaining of a vague headache and a change in her handwriting.  The insurance company was denying a MRI scan, but I really went to bat for her as I felt something was wrong. She had a brain tumor, and, because we found it early enough, she was able to have a good quality of life for another year and see her grandson graduate from high school. I saw her through surgery and radiation, and as she unfortunately declined, we started palliative care. I had the honor of being at her bedside when she passed away.

I feel that discussing end of life issues and knowing what your patient really wants is so important. End-of-life care has advanced tremendously, but just because we have the medical know-how doesn’t mean we should do it. Death should be peaceful with family and friends around the bedside, not hooked up to machines in an ICU.


What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?



What is the best experience you have had during your career as a family physician so far?

Having my children. It made me a better doctor.


It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:

Membership is really important, as it allows us to speak with one voice. United we stand, divided we flounder. I know that CAFP and AAFP are our advocates and work for us every day on many issues. I have been involved in organized medicine for 15 years, serving as president of the Sonoma County Medical Association, and am currently in my second term on the Board of Trustees for the California Medical Association.  I find this work very gratifying.


What has been your best experience as a CAFP member? Why?

I am very proud of the work CAFP has done with Senate Bill 277 (Pan and Allen). This bill ends the personal belief exemptions to our state’s childhood vaccination requirements.  I had a small part in this work, acting as a key contact, and I spoke with my local representatives about the importance of vaccinations for the safety of our children and our communities.

I told them about my son, Sam, who got whooping cough, despite being fully vaccinated and was miserable for months. Our legislators will listen to us because we are respected leaders in our communities. We can speak with authority about how issues affect the practice of medicine and lives of our patients – it is as simple as that.


The most important resource I find CAFP offers me is:

Keeping me up to date on issues affecting family physicians and CME opportunities.  


How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?

Since joining Kaiser Permanente in 2006, I have been very involved with women’s health issues and domestic violence prevention, education and intervention.  My mentor in this work has been Dr. Brigid McCaw. She is the lead physician for the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Family Violence Prevention Team and I learn from her every day.

I have given many different lectures at our “women’s night out”, which are fun community educational programs. My true passion is helping women end the cycle of violence and getting them the help they need.

I started a “rooming alone policy” in Santa Rosa for all adults in our primary care and OB/GYN clinics so patients can have private time to discuss sensitive issues and be screened for intimate partner violence. Our medical assistants ask patients if anyone is hurting them physically or emotionally, every visit, every time. If there is a positive screen, the doctor is informed.

I had a patient who revealed to me that her husband was emotionally abusive. She asked me “do you think this stress could be causing my health issues?” Doctors are often afraid that if they ask about domestic violence, they will open Pandora’s Box. But in reality, you can reduce office visits and help the patients get better by getting to the true root of their problem.



Tell us about a project in which you are involved and why it is important to you:

I am on our Family Violence Prevention Team and helping to develop programs for our patients who have suffered from childhood trauma.  

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) was conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC to demonstrate an association between adverse childhood experiences and profound health problems as an adult. Childhood trauma has long-lasting effects, and actually changes a person’s DNA. We are developing trauma-informed and resilience-building programs for our members. In addition, I am working to increase physicians’ knowledge about the prevalence and consequences of ACEs. I feel this work is the best preventative medicine we could ever do as physicians.


What good qualities should a family physician have?

Patience: It takes time for patients to change behaviors.  Family Physicians need to lead the change in how our health care is managed.   A strong primary care system is the foundation for quality and cost effective medicine.

Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm is essential for the practice of medicine and in determining what we can do to change our corner of the world.

Mindfulness: We need to practice what we preach by exercising, eating healthily, developing good relationships and taking quiet time each day.


What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?

Do what you love, and love what you do.


How do you spend your free time?

My free time is spent with my family just having fun, hiking, Boy Scouts, but knitting and gardening are my personal hobbies. Travel is also my passion, I have been to 49 out of 50 states, lived in 13 states and Germany, and been to six continents, but plan to visit as many countries as I can.  


If you weren’t a doctor what would you be doing with your career?

I would work in historical preservation. We recently traveled to Falling Water, a Frank Lloyd Wright home. I love the detail and craftsmanship of the past.


What would your best friend say about you?

I am energetic, loyal and fun!


Tell us something fun/unusual about yourself:

I am an identical twin, and we have had mental telepathy abilities at times. For example, when I broke my ankle, my sister Karen felt leg pain also, and several times we bought each other the exact gift even when living 3,000 miles apart.  We had our own language until we were three years old.


Tell us briefly about your family:

I am happily married to Greg an engineer; we met in a wine tasting class at our local junior college in Santa Rosa.  We have been married for 13 years and have two active, wonderful boys, 12 and 10 (Ben and Sam). We also have two long haired mini-dachshunds named Oskar and Wolfie.


Each month, CAFP highlights one outstanding California family physician member who lends their voice, time, talent and resources to strengthen the specialty of family medicine and his or her community. If you would like to share your story or know a family physician colleague who deserves to be recognized for his or her impact or leadership, contact CAFP at 415-345-8667 or