From riding 30,000 miles around Europe on a motorcycle to owning all the Taco Bells in Alaska, and treating a member of Elton John’s entourage, Dr. Bruce Kiessling’s life has been anything but ordinary.
There’s also very little “ordinary” when it comes to a life and career in the Alaskan tundra.
Dr. Kiessling is the Medical Director at Primary Care Associates in Anchorage, which has been affiliated with U.S. HealthWorks since 2001. At the clinic, Dr. Kiessling sees all kinds of patients, including some of Alaska’s high-profile elected officials.
He has treated some unusual conditions working in Alaska during his 41-year medical career – not the type of traumas a doctor typically sees in an average metro area.
“The unique medical challenges are the traumas suffered: bear maulings, frostbite, falls from cliff and mountain climbing, gunshot wounds from careless hunting buddies, lots of airplane and boating accidents,” explained Dr. Kiessling.
Dr. Kiessling first arrived in Alaska in 1974 after earning his medical degree from the University of Michigan and completing his postgraduate training in Denver.
He’d been driving west from Colorado in a van (which had been his home during medical training), and he decided to go north once he got to Los Angeles. Gas was 40 cents a gallon, and he had a few hundred dollars in his pocket. He decided he’d stop when the next place wasn’t better than the one before it.
Each place just kept getting better, and finally, he reached Alaska – during a time when the average age was 26 and billions of dollars were pouring into the state with a population of 400,000 – and decided to stop driving.
“These were the pipeline building boom days, and the tide of fortune lifted everyone and everything,” he recalls. “Wild, unspeakable beauty and opportunity kept me here.”
He’s been working hard ever since, raising two sons, Willis and Patrick, with his wife, Mary, and pursuing his career in medicine and entrepreneurism.
Alaska is a place that few people know well. Dr. Kiessling has encountered many misconceptions about the state over the course of his life and career, especially from the medical community outside the state.
In some cases, he’s been questioned about the competencies of physicians in Alaska and the conditions for health care. But ultimately, people in Alaska get the same diseases and chronic illnesses as anywhere else.
Even rock stars get sick – as Dr. Kiessling can attest from his experience with a member of Elton John’s entourage. While in town, a member of the crew called with a need for medicine to manage some abdominal pain.
“I had to convince Elton that his sick crew member was very ill and should stay in Anchorage while the rest of them traveled to do shows in Fairbanks,” he said.
“Luckily, he agreed because, by the time he returned two days later, his friend was in an induced coma in the ICU and remained there for six weeks.”
The patient was dealing with a complex complication and abscess formation from cancer that had eroded into the appendix, and somehow other emergency rooms and doctors elsewhere in the “lower 48” had missed it and didn’t diagnose the problem.
“It was cool to see EJ and his entourage be vocally skeptical of Anchorage medical talent and facilities, and then to see their skepticism morph into relief as their friend recovered,” Dr. Kiessling said.
In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Kiessling is an avid investor and entrepreneur. He has invested in land, formed partnerships with construction companies, owned multiple businesses (including all the Taco Bells in Alaska at one time, and a gold mining operation), and dabbled as a venture capitalist.
He’s also been hosting a radio show for 26 years on News 650, Anchorage’s talk radio station, where he discusses medical news and trends.
Dr. Kiessling has also embraced the outdoor lifestyle that Alaska presents. He skis the foothills of Mt. McKinley every summer, goes fly fishing, hunts a variety of wildlife from caribou to waterfowl, and cruises the waters off the coast of Alaska in his boat.
“Every place has its charm; for me Alaska overwhelmed. I’ve been fortunate to explore its beauty and opportunities for decades,” he said.
Dr. Kiessling can be found every Tuesday on KENI-650AM and at Primary Care Associates in Anchorage.