best doctor

Dr. Tom Archie performs on July 4, 2015, at the Power House restaurant in Hailey.
Photo by Roland Lane

the story of Dr. Tom
Gold-medal doctor strives for healing—and making good music.
Jennifer Liebrum

If Dr. Tom Archie ever wins a Grammy, it's a guarantee he'll get no ribbing for his gratitude list. His family tree of wife, Heidi, and son, Holden, are his foundation for his wellness and the ongoing fosters of his energy and creativity, whether in health, writing, performing or living.

He describes his integrative practice of medicine, which is centered from St. Luke's Clinic in Hailey, as where innovation and tradition meet. His passion outside of work is making music. His largely improvisational style, built around the theory that storytelling builds compassion, ranges in sound from Southern rock to bluegrass, funk, swing and folk. He plays electric guitar solo as Dr. Tom's Alchemy, and with the band Doghaus.
The winner of the valley's Best Doctor honor this year explained his prescription for life in an interview. 

Sun Valley Guide: The alchemy of Tom Archie—explain. With medicine, music, parenting, horseback riding, skiing (and much more), how do you make all the parts interact?  
Archie: I canceled my cable TV subscription in 1994 and started drinking a half gallon of green tea every day. Once or twice a week, I play music and either bike, snowboard or skate ski. I have a black belt in procrastination recovery. Inevitably, I wind up staying up really late or (grudgingly) getting up early to keep up with charting, dishes and the occasional wave and smile at my family. The special sauce is my wife, Heidi Woog—a veterinarian with similar time demands. We have a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" partnership about getting the time we need to do whatever it is that keeps us smiling.

SVG: I interviewed integrative medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil at his school and he and his students were just as stressed, unsettled, hyper and caffeinated up as traditional medical students. Is balance just something we pursue to feel like we are trying, or is it real?
Archie: In integrative medicine, we teach students how to create the appearance of stress so as not to make other doctors feel like they're missing out on the true Zen bliss of juggling the practice of both conventional medicine and acupuncture, nutrition, fitness, meditation, Chinese herbal medicine and meaningful documentation—all in our allotted 15- to 20-minute time slots. Running an hour behind supports the act.  
No, seriously, if your family recognizes you in the doorway and smiles, if you can laugh at yourself, sleep at night, sing while you ski, and still feel like you're on a treadmill at work with no time to sit down for lunch … balance is all relative. Practicing mindfulness and intentional presence with every patient, no matter what else has to be done in the day—when I'm focused on that person's story—that is very calming and grounding for me.

SVG: Being a dad and a doctor, which is harder?
Archie: Being my wife. Being a mom, an integrative veterinarian, search-and-rescue dog trainer, and married to me all at the same time takes the cake.  

SVG: Who did you get your hair from?
Archie: There was this shop in the back alleys of Washington, N.C. … Curley Q's. For a buck, you could have hair like the comic strip "Cathy" if you slathered molasses, pureed flounder and Spanish moss into your hair and took a series of electric shocks while standing in a puddle of homebrewed iced tea spiked with moonshine. I was a little skeptical but curious—or maybe it came down to me from my mom's mother from Petersburg, Va.

SVG: Why do things that are good for you cost more than those that are bad, including health-care options? Do you see that changing?
Archie: That pair of hiking boots might cost $150, but think of the health-care savings if you put them on and follow them step by step up the mountain every day for five years—about 8 cents per day. You might even bliss out at the beautiful views and miss your doctor's appointment, thereby recouping the $150 all at once.
The health-care industry is shifting the cost of health care over to the consumer so that, other than preventive screening, which is mostly free now, accessing healthcare is increasingly much more expensive than a $20 co-pay.  As that cost shift occurs, patients begin to reassess the value of what they are paying for and to move away from thinking in terms of what is "covered" by insurance plans to thinking in terms of what actually has value that improves their quality of life, prevents illness in the first place, and saves money.
Using cheaper, high-deductible health insurance to prevent medical bankruptcy rather than for routine care frees up dollars so that, over time, the things that are "good" for you (restorative, healing, educational) will become relatively less expensive than the status quo of fixing what's broken. Does your car insurance pay for your gasoline and oil changes?
Except for food—those darned organic tomatoes, broccoli, chard, kale and apples—if there's no processing, packaging or pesticides, then they'll just be more expensive. Go figure.

SVG: What do you want people to say about you when your son is within earshot?
Archie: "That's Holden's dad!"

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