Dr. Juris Macs, MD, is well-known among the Grays Harbor medical community. That’s because he’s been a general surgeon in the area for more than 40 years.

Macs was 14 years old when he and his family emigrated from Latvia to the United States, narrowly escaping the concentration camps many of his friends and other relatives tragically endured. For Macs, America truly was the land of opportunity.

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After 46 years, Grays Harbor Community Hospital general surgeon Dr. Juris Macs retired on December 31, 2015. Photo credit: Meg Newton Photography.

Just a few years after settling in a new and foreign country, Macs left for college and soon found himself studying biology at the College of Puget Sound in Tacoma (known today as the University of Puget Sound). While a career in the medical field wasn’t always clear to Macs, others knew he was destined to be a doctor.

“I was a double major in biology and chemistry,” Macs recounts. During his sophomore year, Macs remembers his mentor, Dr. Gordon Alcorn, calling him into his office. “‘You need to declare your major,’ he said to me,” Macs recalls. “I said, ‘I have no clue,’ and he put me in pre-med.” With a strong interest in biology, Macs looked forward to a career that would allow him to continue learning about living things.

After graduating from the College of Puget Sound, Macs attended medical school at the University of Washington School of Medicine. After graduating in 1962, Macs knew he would need to complete an internship if he wanted to practice medicine in Washington, so he traveled to Minnesota where he was selected to do a surgical internship at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “That’s where I fell in love with general surgery,” he says.

It was the mid 1960s and a new job moved Macs and his budding family to Chicago. “We went from Seattle to Minneapolis to Chicago,” Macs says. “When I was in Chicago, I began to hate traffic. I wanted to practice surgery, but I didn’t want to be in a big city.”

Macs tried practicing in Bakersfield, California, but he knew the Pacific Northwest was where he and his family belonged. After all, some of Macs’ fondest memories were from his undergrad years, hiking through the Olympics with his buddies and studying shorebirds in Grays Harbor alongside Dr. Alcorn.

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Dr. Juris Macs came to Grays Harbor Community Hospital in the late 1960s. Over the course of his career, he’s seen many changes take place within both the hospital and the medical field. Photo credit: Meg Newton Photography.

Macs and his family returned to Washington in the late 1960s with the intent that Macs would find a job in Olympia. During this time, however, Grays Harbor was in desperate need of a general surgeon. Macs was interested in the position, but also hesitant. He had been discouraged by his advisor in med school to seek employment in cities like Bellingham and Aberdeen.

Familiar with the community, Macs disregarded his advisor’s guidance and took a leap of faith.

He’s glad he did.

Over the past 46 years, Macs has worked at Grays Harbor Community Hospital, witnessing changes in the medical field that only a doctor with more than four decades of experience can understand.

Reflecting on the past 40 years, Macs says things have changed significantly. “When I came here in 1969, there was extremely primitive or non-existent care for the injured. But that wasn’t just here; that was across the country,” he explains.

Macs says it wasn’t until the early 1970s that emergency medical services (EMS) emerged in the United States. For Macs, being able to witness the start of a system that positively impacted the medical outcomes of countless patients was undoubtedly the highlight of his career, and it inspired his interest in trauma. Between shifts in Grays Harbor, for many years Macs would travel to and from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to teach trauma courses to other aspiring surgeons.

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Dr. Juris Macs fell in love with general surgery during an internship at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Meg Newton Photography.

Over the years, Macs hasn’t had time for much outside of his job, but he’s been able to get to know his community well. This was affirmed earlier in December during a retirement celebration hosted by the hospital. “So many people showed up,” Macs says. “It was a total blowout.” And of the people who attended, Macs says there were only five people whose names he didn’t know. “I was so thankful of the decision I made so many years ago to come to a small community,” he says. “To be able to come here and establish this nice, warm relationship with my patients and be a part of the community I provided care for — that is the biggest bonus.”

For a man who escaped internment as a young boy and dedicated his life to helping others, Macs says he doesn’t have any big plans for his retirement; he’s just looking forward to the simple things in life like reading, doing chores, and spending some time outdoors in the place that he lives and loves.

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