Adam Zelka, MD
BS Biology 2007
family medicine physician, St Vincent Healthcare
Growing up, Adam Zelka showed a knack for public speaking. He traveled with the sports teams at Hardin High School, did radio broadcasts and even thought about becoming an actor. But a funny thing happened after he started working toward a communications degree at Montana State University Billings.
“I quickly found out that I really hated the communications I was studying. I thought it was the most boring class in the world,” Zelka said. Despite his disappointment in his chosen major, Zelka thrived in his science classes. After an instructor observed that very few students had achieved such high scores on his biology tests, Zelka decided to switch majors and immersed himself in the sciences.
Zelka graduated from MSUB with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry and was accepted to the University of Washington School of Medicine. He completed the Montana Family Medicine Residency program at RiverStone Health after medical school, and is currently a family medicine physician with St. Vincent Healthcare, SCL Health and is Co-Medical Director of RiverStone Hospice.
Zelka describes his practice as providing full-spectrum primary care to newborns, pediatric patients adults and geriatric patients.
When his grandfather contracted a fatal case of stomach cancer, he realized his desire to help people cope with illness. “It wasn’t until my first year of medical school that I realized my talents were best suited for helping people prevent illness. At that point it was obvious that primary care was the perfect fit,” he said.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job?
The overwhelming burden of insurance and governmental bureaucracy getting in the way of effective delivery of healthcare.
What’s the best business advice you have received?
It’s not strictly business advice, rather a general guiding principle of life. Treat everyone you meet with the fundamental respect and decency they deserve. Do that, and you will be surprised at how receptive people are to your thoughts and ideas. This allows relationships to build on a foundation of trust and mutual respect, from which only good things will come. Basically, you reap what you sow, and often much more than you sow.
Who gave you that advice?
Not one individual directly. These are lessons I’ve learned in watching my family deal with friends and neighbors, both in personal matters and in business. It was their key to success.
Here’s what I’d like to do to improve my community: I strive every day to improve the lives of my patients. The health of our community must be a priority for anything else to progress.
Outside of work, my biggest passion is: My interests and hobbies are vast, but they all run in the same vein of history and nostalgia. I collect coins and vinyl records. I love antiques and historical artifacts. I’m a passionate reader of WWII history. But most of all I am an ardent genealogist. I’ve a strong family history of military veterans, noting family which has fought on BOTH sides of most of our major military conflicts – Americans and Germans in WWII, Yanks and Confederates in the Civil War, and even Patriots and Torries in the Revolutionary War. I’ve identified and verified ancestors dating to the 1700’s in Norway, Scotland, and Wales; the 1600’s in the Prussian Empire, and 1500’s England.
Which living person do you most admire?
My Dad. He chose to be my father when he didn’t have to be, and always tried his best to provide for my brother and I. As with any family, ours was far from perfect. He faced innumerable struggles and hardships, both financial and physical, which he eventually overcame. I admire him because he never gave up and through it all remained one of the most kind, generous, and non-judgemental people I’ve known.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job?
When my patients are happy and healthy. A successful day for me is when at least one person tells me they are better off today than they were yesterday because of my advice/expertise.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Building my family, which feels like an even greater achievement with every passing day. I met my now-wife Tiffanee in High School and thankfully she said yes when I asked her to marry me! That, and conquering Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo when I was 8….that was pretty epic.
I’m happiest when I’m… With my family and enjoying the outdoors, whether it’s out for a walk, fishing, boating, or just cleaning up the yard.
Article & photo credits: Billings Gazette