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Doctor Kathy Brown makes switch from medicine to music

Brown was an OB/GYN for 17 years, delivering thousands of babies

TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Kathy Brown, a student teacher assisting the band program at Beaverton High School, got a chance to direct one of the pieces during the Beaverton High School Bands & Ensemble WInter Concert.Kathy Brown’s career change didn’t come suddenly. Nor was it totally unexpected.

Over the course of 17 years, Brown was an obstetrician/gynecologist who delivered literally thousands of babies.

But now, after closing her medical practice three years ago, Brown, 53, is in the process of finishing up a master’s in education degree at Portland State University, with an endorsement in music, and plans to become a music teacher. In the meantime, she is completing her student teaching at Beaverton High School.

For Brown, the switch in careers was a natural, having come from a musical family.

Her mother was an elementary school teacher for many years before later going back to school and getting a master’s degree in music education.

“So all of us grew up and played the piano,” Brown said.

She recalls that her mother was so dedicated to her craft that she would play the organ on Sunday mornings at the local Catholic Church, remove her organ shoes and run down the street for services at the local Methodist Church, which the family attended.

“It was, like, two blocks away,” said Brown.

Beginning in pre-veterinary medicine at Oregon State University, Brown changed majors because it made her sad to see pet owners not treating their animals well. Soon, she would declare a double major in both music and biology, with classes that covered pre-med requirements.

While at OSU, she met Greg Brown, a music student who was still deciding on his career path. Both eventually decided on medicine, became friends, dated and soon became engaged.

“We got married six days after we graduated from college,” said Brown.

Today, her husband is a busy pediatrician in Hillsboro, where they live.

After graduating from Oregon Health Sciences University in 1989, Brown took a residency in family practice medicine in Minnesota.

“Then I decided women’s health was really my cup of tea,” said Brown, who then spent a second residency as an OB/GYN in New Mexico.

When the couple moved back to Oregon, Brown worked as an OB/GYN in a private office in Forest Grove before purchasing a renovated home in Hillsboro, where she set up her solo practice.

“I loved delivering babies — or helping moms delivering babies. They do all the work,” she said. “It’s a miracle every time.”

In a busy year, she would deliver anywhere from 120 to 150 babies. And during moments of stress, Brown found an outlet in her music.

Over time, however, Brown discovered that the reality of being a doctor shifted from the time when she attended medical school in the 1980s until today.

“Medicine really changed and became more business, and it seemed to me less about taking care of patients,” she said. “I loved, loved (being a doctor) and adored my patients.”

Still, it was a tough decision to leave the profession, she noted, saying being a doctor becomes your personality and to leave is almost akin to “lopping off a limb.”

But the changing face of medicine, combined with the fact she had been looking for a new career for some years, convinced her to shutter her office in 2013 and pursue her love of music.

“It was really, really hard to make that final decision,” she said.

She said she stayed in medicine a long time, but in the end, knew it was the right choice to leave. She notes that as a doctor, she was constantly teaching patients, not different from what her new job will be when she’s teaching students.

Initially worried about what family and other doctors would think of her leaving the medical profession, she was pleasantly surprised by their positive reactions. Her patients were supportive of her career change as well.

In early February, after student teaching at Beaverton High School for only two days, Mary Bengel, the school’s band director, asked Brown to direct the song “Country Gardens” during a portion of a band concert.

“I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled to be thrown in,” said Brown, who is proficient on the piano, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, bassoon and a little percussion. “I really enjoy conducting a lot.”

She said she appreciated the fact Bengel trusted her to conduct the piece, one that was familiar to her.

“When Mary asked me to conduct it ... I knew the piece already,” she said of the folk tune, which, when she was a child, was the first piano piece she ever learned to play using both hands.

Bengel said Brown is ahead of the curve as a first-year teacher based on the fact that she has children who went through successful band programs and already has life experience after successfully running her own medical practice.

“Any person ready, willing and able to change careers in their mid-50s is an inspiration,” said Bengel. “Kathy is proof that it is never too late to switch it up in life.”

In addition to currently playing in the Oregon Symphonic Band and the Portland Wind Symphony, Brown previously played with the Hillsboro Symphony and periodically plays with the Chehalem Symphony Orchestra.

She is the mother of two musical students as well.

Her son, Matthew, is a trombone performance major at the University of Oregon, who previously played for three years in the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

Brown’s daughter, Kaitlin, is a biology major at the same school and is pursuing a teaching certificate. Kaitlin also played in the Portland Youth Philharmonic and was a percussionist in the Oregon Crusaders, the local drum and bugle corps.

Her husband Greg has a degree in music as well.

Brown said she’s enjoying her new career immensely, and ideally would like to teach band at a middle or high school.

“That’s my plan for the foreseeable future,” she said. “I’m having a great time.”