In this edition you’ll see a list of the top doctors in Grand Rapids, the physicians and caregivers who rose to meet the challenges of medicine in West Michigan over the past year. How did this list come about? We contracted Professional Research Services to conduct an online peer-review survey. All practicing and active physicians within the area were eligible and were encouraged to log on and cast their votes.
If you’ve read our Top Docs stories in previous issues, you’ve probably noticed many doctors share the same last names. This intrigued us, so we decided to investigate the phenomenon and found that many physicians are married to one another. Many others are related by blood.
We reached out and talked to some of 2023’s Top Doctors and discussed things like what it’s like to meet your significant other in med school, how being closely related to another physician helps (or hinders) their own practice and how being related to a physician may have played a role in their decision to practice medicine.
There’s no denying the power of caring for others, and the impact of having a compassionate role model. Does the white coat pass down from generation to generation, or does inspiration alone call doctors to the forefront and bestow them with purpose?
Read on and find out:
Michael and Colleen App
For Dr. Michael App, medicine is all about family. He’s married to breast surgeon Dr. Colleen App while carrying on the legacy of his father, Dr. Peter App, a family physician, who served the Grand Rapids community for almost 50 years.
“I grew up watching my father and he loved practicing medicine,” Michael said. “He has a long shadow and set a high bar,” he added.
Michael App said his father, who was the son of generations of lawyers, made the decision to pursue medicine after a life-changing accident in which he was pronounced clinically dead before being resuscitated and recovering. His father never forgot what doctors did for him and decided to use his life to care for others.
“What was unique about my dad is he always talked about how grateful he was to have been given the opportunity to be a physician,” Michael said. “That is always part of what I remember about my daddy, he just, to the end, he would say that they could have chosen anybody, and they chose me. He was certainly the model for me, the inspiration, and the reason that I wanted to do it (practice medicine). I’m 56 and now that I’ve been doing it for 25 years, I completely understand what he was talking about, but I can’t say I did when I was growing up.”
Although he has been practicing medicine for 25 years, Michael refers to his wife, a breast surgeon at the Breast Health & Wellness Center in Grand Rapids as “The Real Doctor App.”
The pair met in college.
“I spotted him on the first day of medical school,” Colleen App said.
“I did everything I could to try to talk her out of going into surgery but she wasn’t listening,” Michael said, laughing. “And I’m glad that she didn’t because she has just a real, genuine, authentic love for the women that she takes care of. I’m wildly proud of her.”
I think women in medicine, particularly women surgeons, which are, actually, a bit of a rarity, are the real medical heroes. She really came up in medical school and in her residency and surgery at a time where you saw few women (in surgery).”
Colleen said while she believes medicine runs in families for many people, for her it was a unique vocation.
“For me, becoming a surgeon is definitely a calling from God that became apparent to me before the age of 10,” she said. “I am grateful every day for my ability to treat cancer and be an integral part of cancer prevention.”
Colleen added that she loves being married to someone in the same profession as they constantly encourage each other and are able to understand the daily struggles they face in their field.
“Even though we are different specialties we are a team with a common goal: to provide unprecedented patient care,” she said.
Michael said he believes that medicine does run in families and said during his time in medical school he was surprised by how many of his fellow students were the children of physicians as well.
“Ultimately, I think there’s caregivers that are born in the world and they just have it in them to help,” he said. “And I think they see it in their parents, and that’s probably what the motivation is. Most children are to some extent what they see.”
His wife agrees, adding that the couple is anticipating contributing to the next generation of physicians as their son, also named Michael, heads into the field.
“Michael will be a freshman at Hillsdale College this fall studying pre-medicine,” she said. “If Michael continues on the medical path, he will be a third-generation physician, which I think is something to be proud of.”
Michael App Sr. is a board-certified internal medicine physician and a board-certified pediatric physician. He practices at Internal Medicine and Pediatrics of West Michigan and received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan.
Colleen App is a board-certified breast surgeon and serves as medical director of The Breast Health & Wellness Center. She also is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Surgery at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. She attended Wayne State University School of Medicine and graduated medical school in 1993.
For Colleen, finding joy in her work, she said, revolves around two principles: “When you love your work, it is not work” and ” When you love what you have, you have everything you need.” She said for her and her husband, “Internal Medicine & Pediatrics of West Michigan and The Breast Health & Wellness Center are not work for either of us but rather a way of life.”
Michael App added that for him, the most gratifying part of his work is seeing children he cared for as infants grow into adulthood and have children of their own, which they, in turn, bring to him for care. He said those are the strongest relationships he has with patients, and it brings him joy to see them in all their stages of life.
Pediatrician Dr. Sarah Elmouchi cares for children from birth to adulthood, watching them navigate their most formative years. While she works from a private practice, her husband, Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, is the president of one of West Michigan’s largest health care providers– Corewell Health.
Elmouchi is not only married to one of Grand Rapids’ biggest names in health care, she is also the sibling of Dr. Peter Theut, an area orthopedic surgeon. She said her familial relationships in health care have helped her get to know the medical community in West Michigan better.
“My brother and I, we refer patients to each other,” she said. “And with my husband (our relationship) has given me a lot of opportunity to get to know different medical specialists and different people within the medical community that I might not have otherwise met.”
Elmouchi wasn’t originally from Grand Rapids, moving to the area in 2006, only four years after she completed her residency. Her husband, now president of Corewell Health in West Michigan, was then a cardiologist working at West Michigan Heart.
“Having Darryl in his position, and Pete in his position was kind of an easy segue into getting a better understanding of the medical community here and getting to know people.”
She also reflected on the differences between her work and her husband’s, noting that while they work in different types of health care systems, they have shared desires and experiences in the field that help them relate to each other’s work.
“It’s been interesting from an overall business perspective and looking at the medical community,” she said. “I get to have eyes on two very different types of medical systems, the private world and then a big hospital world, so it gives me a little different perspective sometimes, I think.”
She added that while her husband no longer practices clinical medicine he can still provide the support she needs on a daily basis.
“There are certain things that are really hard for people who aren’t in medicine or treating patients to understand without having been through that experience. It’s nice to have somebody who really understands both the good and the bad of (medicine).”
She said from her perspective it makes sense that doctors tend to marry other doctors and form close relationships, especially given the crucible that medical school tends to be.
“It’s your early to mid-twenties and you spend an enormous amount of time together enmeshed in this common experience,” she said. “That certainly was how it was for my husband and I.”
Elmouchi said she and her husband met on their very first day of medical school at the University of Michigan.
In regard to whether or not the couple’s medical interests will be passed on, Elmouchi said, laughing: “That’s a funny one because we have three kids, and I don’t think any of our three are going to become physicians.”
Elmouchi is a pediatrician with Cascade Pediatrics in Grand Rapids. She received both her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Michigan and completed her pediatric and chief residencies at the University of California, San Francisco in 2002. In addition to her work, she serves on the board of directors for Youth Solutions, a Benton Harbor youth leadership nonprofit.
She said after more than 20 years in the field her work still “feels like a privilege.” The most gratifying part of her work is experiencing the unbridled chatter of young children. “Little toddlers or preschoolers, they just say the funniest things and they’re so real and genuine and some of the stuff that comes out of their mouth you just, well, you just have to laugh,” she said.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Peter Theut said while he and his sister, Dr. Sarah Elmouchi, didn’t come from a “long lineage of physicians,” their family imbued them with something just as important– a desire to help and care for others.
“Neither of our parents were doctors,” Theut said of his family. “Our grandparents were not physicians. Our older siblings are not physicians, et cetera, but nonetheless it has been interesting and generally a very positive experience to have my sister in the same community as me, along with, of course, her husband, my brother-in-law.”
Theut’s sister works as a pediatrician at Cascade Pediatrics in Grand Rapids, while her husband, Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, is president of Corewell Health in West Michigan.
“We’re in different specialties, so that’s good I think because we can kind of bounce things off of each other and get a different perspective,” Theut said. “(I’m) a surgeon and she’s in primary care and pediatrics (so) we kind of come at things from a different way.”
He said he appreciates the ability to collaborate with his sister as they see different types of patients and can often advise one another on areas of care they might be less familiar with.
Theut said that he and his sister come from a non-medical family background, and weren’t pressured to go into the medical field.
“It’s just kind of a thing I always wanted to be growing up,” he said. “My dad’s an attorney and my mom was a teacher. There was never any expectation that we would be physicians.”
I think the notion of helping people and being involved in a rewarding career was instilled in us. That carried some import, and medicine seemed like a natural means for that.”
While Theut has three children of his own, none of them are in medicine currently.
“I get asked that question all the time, ‘Are your kids going into medicine?’” he said. “I don’t think there was anything overt within my parents saying, ‘You have to become a doctor,’ and yet I did. There certainly was nothing overtly from me saying, ‘Don’t become a doctor.’ It just didn’t seem to be their interests.”
Theut is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and joint reconstruction. He is associated with the Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan Surgery Center at MidTowne, Corewell Health and University of Michigan Health-West. He earned his undergraduate degree from University of Michigan and his M.D. from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He is currently team physician for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
He said the most gratifying part of his job is when, “a patient takes the time to just say thanks or take note of how you’ve helped them. Sometimes you’ll have a little old lady or a grandmother who’ll give you a hug or something like that. And honestly that just makes my day.”