FARGO — "Sometimes the days are long but the years go fast."
Those were the words of Dr. Sue Mathison on Wednesday, Oct. 28, when asked to reflect on the 20 years since launching Catalyst Medical Center and Clinical Spa.
While she admits running a practice and a business can be like having two full-time jobs, she wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's a path that if you're doing it for the right reasons, there's a lot of intrinsic goodness to it and intrinsic value," she said. "No insurance company or the hassles of medicine can ever take that away. That connection. It's really an honor to take care of people."
After beginning as a three-person team working from clinic space shared with fellow otolaryngologist Dr. James Frisk, Catalyst has grown over the years into a thriving practice with 35 employees headquartered at 1800 21st Ave. S. in Fargo. Mathison also operates clinics in Detroit Lakes, Jamestown and Grand Forks.
While she doesn't rule out additional clinics in the future, her main goal remains strengthening Catalyst's foundation.
"I think No. 1 is always to focus on our roots and every single day try to be better," she said.
The family business
While her father, Mark, was a urologist and her mother, Marge, a nurse, Mathison wasn't always set on practicing medicine. She briefly considered becoming a lawyer, but the desire to work with her head and her hands brought her back to medicine.
She earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford University in California and her medical degree at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. After completing her residency in Seattle, Mathison felt drawn back to her home state.
"I think there's great doctor-patient partnerships that you don't necessarily find in some of the fast-paced places on the coasts. I think the people (here) are very kind and generous," she said.
In 1997, she joined her father at Dakota Clinic in Fargo. When he retired three years later, the timing seemed perfect to strike out on her own.
"I don't know where I got it, but I had this little entrepreneurial streak," she said. "I wanted to do some things differently."
The 'art of beauty'
From the outset, Mathison's goal has been to "help others lead happier, healthier, more beautiful lives."
Mathison's specialty is otolaryngology, which encompasses head and neck surgery as well as facial plastic surgery. As a surgeon, she performs otoplasty, blepharoplasty, rhinoplasty, laser surgeries and sinus and septal surgeries. She also does facial reconstruction for skin cancer patients and pediatric surgeries, including ear tubes, tonsillectomies and tongue tie release. Mathison is board-certified in sleep medicine and integrative medicine as well.
She is joined at Catalyst Medical Center by providers who specialize in ENT, dermatology, women's health, sexual health and regenerative medicine.
At the clinical spa, providers offer services such as body contouring, injectables, facials and laser treatments. Mathison takes credit for being the first to bring Botox to Fargo.
"I also have the art of beauty. Some people might consider that frivolous, but I see the impact that it makes on people. They feel better about themselves and more confident," Mathison said. "I wish we all kind of had that intrinsically, but we all have our little hang-ups."
An 'architect for good'
Mathison is well-known locally for her work with nonprofits, startup companies and efforts to support women in business.
She jokes that serving on various boards is her "social life."
Pat Traynor, executive director of Dakota Medical and Impact Foundations, refers to Mathison as an "architect for good."
Traynor said he's grateful for her tenure on the board of directors of both organizations.
"I can tell you that she's been an absolute blessing to our organizations — DMF and Impact — and also personally in my life," Traynor said. "She's absolutely the type of friend that helps you guide difficult circumstances forward."
He gave the COVID pandemic as an example.
"She was a great resource, always helpful," he said. "She has a tremendous gift for spreading hope in the future and building the path forward."
He also appreciates her "diplomatic approach" to encouraging people to live a healthier lifestyle.
"I love her approach because it's never critical, but more suggestive," he said.
Michelle Kommer, owner, CEO and president of High Road Partners, met Mathison while serving on a committee tasked with launching Women Connect, a monthly Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce program aimed at addressing the needs and development of professional women.
She refers to Mathison as a "connector."
"One thing that stands out with Sue is her role as a connector in our community," she said. "One of the first things she thinks about when meeting people is 'How can I help?' or 'How can I connect you with someone who can help?'"
Mathison reached out to Kommer soon after she announced she was leaving the North Dakota Department of Commerce to launch High Road Partners, a new business that specializes in HR and insurance solutions for small businesses.
"She reached out very early on to say 'Hey, when you're ready, I'd love to talk about your new business, so I can talk about your new business,'" Kommer said.
Mathison was also one of the first to reach out to Greg Tehven, co-founder and executive director of Emerging Prairie, when he moved back to Fargo several years ago.
"We started building TEDxFargo together and since those humble beginnings, we turned the event into a must-see attraction that has stimulated ideas throughout the region. She is one of the most kind, optimistic, dynamic leaders I've met," he said. "She has the head of an entrepreneur, the heart of a saint, and the wisdom of countless elders. Our community has benefited through her selfless desire to elevate others, mentor leaders. and be an example of generosity for our community."
"She gives off this positive energy that's just contagious," Kommer added. "Your day is better having interacted with her in some way."