She might have come to Beaufort Memorial Bluffton Primary Care direct from medical residency, but when Dr. Rhonda Wallace joined the practice this month as a family medicine specialist, she was no rookie.
On the contrary, the North Dakota native comes equipped with medical knowledge and experience – not to mention a passion for healing and a compassionate bedside manner – that many a longtime practitioner could envy.
Though she believes she was born to be a doctor, Dr. Wallace is the first to say it was life that charted her course – and the course was long.
“As a single parent with two small girls, I saw nursing as a good, solid profession,” Wallace said. So she set her sights on a nursing degree, graduating with a BSN from the University of Wyoming, completing internship in the cardiac ICU at Mayo Clinic and taking a position in cardiac inpatient care at a medical center in Bismarck.
“It was awesome! I loved being a nurse,” she said. “Over the course of a 12-hour shift, I got to know my patients as people. Listening and watching, you pick up on a lot of things.”
Plus, she says, high-level skilled nursing in such settings confers a lot of autonomy within its scope of practice, and the opportunity to perform complex procedures like removing chest tubes sparked in her a desire to learn and do more.
Six years in, she probably would have headed straight for medical school. But as much as she loved medicine, she loved her daughters more. In high school, one was captain of the swim team, the other an all-state soccer star. Uprooting them was out of the question.
A Master of Physician Assistant Studies seemed the ideal solution. She enrolled in a two-year program at University of North Dakota, which offered online courses and an on-campus requirement of only 16 weeks.
When she needed to be on campus, 250 miles away, her now-husband, Robert Christensen, an archaeologist, kept the household running smoothly.
“They all gave up something,” she said of her family members.
Wallace worked for the next seven years as a certified physician assistant, primarily in emergency and urgent care settings at Mayo Clinic Health System. She also served as an adjunct professor in the PA program from which she received her degree.
When her younger daughter graduated from college, Wallace finally went to medical school. “I literally left the next day,” she said.
An M.D. from Anguilla’s Saint James School of Medicine in hand, she and Christensen moved to South Carolina in 2017, where she completed her medical training at the McLeod Family Residency Program in Florence.
Deciding on family medicine was a tough choice. “It seemed every specialty I rotated in I liked,” Wallace said. “But people who do family medicine often say they like everything.”
By contrast, the decision to lay down roots in the Lowcountry came fairly easily. Christensen, who had graduated from high school in Mount Pleasant and attended The Citadel, was able to tip the scale. They bought a house on Hog Island on Hilton Head Island, and enjoy being able to hop in their kayaks or on their road bikes whenever they like.
Now board-certified in family medicine and experienced in three medical roles, Wallace has often been asked to define their difference. “Doctor, nurse, PA, our goal is always the same: to take care of the patient,” she said. “Education just gives us a different job description.”
At Beaufort Memorial Bluffton Primary Care, located in Westbury Park, Wallace joins board-certified family medicine specialists Dr. Robyn Odzark and Dr. Roger Ulrich, and board-certified internists Dr. Johnna Stevens and Dr. Robert Webb. The practice provides a full range of general adult outpatient medical care with an emphasis on wellness and on chronic disease management and prevention.
“I’m excited about being here,” she said. “It fits nicely with my practice philosophy. I like to empower my patients to take an active role in their health care.”
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Wallace or any of the practice’s providers, call 843-706-8690.