Health Care Client Spotlight: Dr. Mark Belz, Iowa Kidney Physicians

When Dr. Mark Belz’s mother took a job as a nurse practitioner at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, she had no idea the impact it would make on her son’s life. “My mother is the one who gave me an interest in studying medicine.” It was that interest that he developed at a young age that guided him through many years of medical school and an ongoing successful career as a Nephrologist.

Dr. Mark Belz’s medical education began in Pittsburgh, which was home for him until he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Behavioral Neuroscience. After completing his undergrad education, he went to Washington University in St. Louis for medical school, and the University of Iowa for residency. During his time at The University of Iowa, he met his wife, Lori Lee, who was also in the internal medicine residency program. The two married and then moved to Aurora, Colorado where they both attended The University of Colorado for their fellowship training; Mark in Nephrology, the study of kidneys, and Lori Lee in Endocrinology, the study of glands and hormones. “It was kind of funny because if you had talked to us, you would have thought that I was going to do the basic science bench research and she was going to do clinical, but it turned out to be the exact opposite.” After a couple years enjoying the weather and activities in Colorado, the Mark and Lori Lee decided it was time to move.

In 2001, Mark and Lori Lee moved to Des Moines to begin their medical careers. “We thought that Des Moines offered a nice balance between a big city and quality of life,” said Dr. Belz. Dr. Mark Belz joined the Iowa Kidney Physicians and has been there ever since. After moving to Des Moines, Lori Lee worked for a few years and then retired in 2005 to stay home with their two children. Currently, their daughter is a sophomore at Dowling High School and their son is an eighth grader at St. Francis. The family enjoys visiting family in places including Pittsburgh, Dubuque, and Germany!

Outside of spending time with his family, Dr. Mark Belz is dedicated to his job and his patients. While there is no typical day in this field, it’s safe to say that Dr. Belz is always busy. The clinic has a number of dialysis units that the physicians round at. The doctors are required to see every patient once a month, so typically Dr. Belz will try to visit patients in the morning, when time allows. After that, he will go to whichever hospital he is rounding at that day. “We have hospital patients at Mercy, both West Hospitals, sometimes the rehab hospital in West Des Moines, Lutheran Hospital, VA, and Broadlawns.” The doctors do in-patient rounds at those hospitals and then will prepare for clinic later that day.

Along with dialysis treatments and in-patient rounds, Iowa Kidney Physicians also has a very active transplant program. “We did 95 transplants at Methodist last year, which is about the same as the University of Iowa. So it is a big program.” The transplant program is doing so well that they will often have requests from patients outside of the state to join their wait list. “We are actually bringing in people from most every state at this point who look us up and find that we are shorter than where they’re at. They are evaluated, listed if appropriate, and receive a kidney transplant sooner than they would have if they had remained only with their local transplant center.” The transplant program accounts for about 20-25% of the Iowa Kidney Physician’s patients.

Another portion of patients that the Iowa Kidney Physicians serves is the rural areas. The physicians serve clinics in Newton, Pella, Perry, Creston, Atlantic, Centerville, Corydon, Carroll, and Osceola. Two to four times per month, a physician will travel to those clinics and meet with patients that might not receive their needed treatments or checkups otherwise. “It is always a balance between what you’re doing locally and what you’re doing out of town,” said Dr. Belz.

So what is the future of the clinic? Recruitment is one of the top three things they need to work on. Currently, Iowa Kidney Physicians has 9 doctors on staff with one retiring at the end of January. “We could easily use more doctors in the area,” said Dr. Belz. “We have a growing population in this town and throughout central Iowa, and I think there is a real need for our services.” To help with recruitment and education of the younger generation of doctors, Dr. Belz and the Iowa Kidney Physicians are largely involved with teaching. “We have residents, medical students, and osteopathic students that rotate with us. We pretty much have one all the time.” The are students at Des Moines University as well as the University of Iowa. These learners are there to help and continue to learn through hands on treatment, lectures, and discussion with the doctors. “They will see patients with us and then we talk about the patients’ problems. We will discuss or occasionally research aspects of their medical problems to help them learn.” The education program isn’t only for the students, though. “It’s definitely a two-way street.” The learners are able to help the doctors if they are stuck with another patient and keep them educated. “Things have worked out really well!”

While his mother’s career in the medical field influenced his interest, Dr. Mark Belz has turned his medical career into his own impacting the lives of many coworkers, patients, and future doctors.