Dr. Alexis Michopoulos learned how to make people feel better a long time ago while she worked the soda fountain in one of Colorado Springs’ most beloved family businesses – Michelle’s Chocolatiers & Ice Cream.
At the age of 5, she started working in the basement of the shop on Tejon Street, packing luscious homemade candies into handsome boxes for customers.
As she got older, she worked the front counter at the soda fountain, making milk shakes and ice cream sundaes and waiting tables in the restaurant. She loved the relationships she built with the loyal customers until the business closed about a decade ago.
“Michelle’s was a really big part of this community. I grew up there, and I saw how important it was to people. I’d hear stories of how couples would go there for ice cream after prom, and how families would come every Sunday for brunch after church,’’ Dr. Michopoulos said.
Founded in 1952 by Lois and John Michopoulos and then handed down to four Michopolous brothers, Michelle’s was a mainstay in downtown Colorado Springs – a gathering place for locals and tourists alike.
It is in that spirit of community, of getting to know her patients – building relationships with them – that Dr. Michopoulos joins UCHealth Primary Care in Monument as a family doctor.
With deep roots in Colorado Springs, she said that it’s not only important to provide expert medical care, but also to build a rapport with patients, to understand them and provide individualized, tailored care for them.
“I’m a very straightforward and honest person, and I think that comes across very quickly,’’ Dr. Michopoulos said. “People know that I am not going to blow smoke and when people understand that, there’s an element of safety between the physician and the patient. I pay attention. I want my patients to see that I am listening, and that I am paying attention and what they feel and need is important.’’
A graduate of Rampart High School in Academy School District 20, Dr. Michopoulos, from the time of kindergarten, told her parents that she wanted to be a doctor.
“I don’t think my parents believed me for a long time,’’ she said. “They’re thinking, ‘You’ve worked at the soda fountain your whole life.’ ”
As a child, she looked up to her pediatrician, Dr. John Genrich.
“I just thought he was the coolest guy in the world. He knew everything, and if there was something wrong, he knew how to fix it. He made me feel better, and why wouldn’t I want to do that for others?’’ she said.
After high school, she went to the University of Denver, her father’s alma mater, and earned a degree in biology and chemistry in 2005.
She returned to Colorado Springs and worked as the coach of the varsity girl’s lacrosse team at Rampart for two years while working at a UCHealth Urgent Care in Briargate. She also worked as a medical assistant in the office of Dr. Lloyd Strode, a well-known Colorado Springs physician who works at UCHealth’s Rockrimmon Primary Care Office on the city’s northwest side. It was there that Michopoulos learned about osteopathic medicine, since Strode is a doctor of osteopathy.
At that time, a nagging back injury that occurred when she played lacrosse at Rampart High School reared up again. She sought treatment from an osteopathic doctor who did osteopathic manipulation therapy. OMT, she said, is literally, hands-on care. It involves using the hands to look for places in the body that are not well or out of balance and using the hands to move a patient’s muscles and joints with techniques that include stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.
“He was incredible and I decided that becoming an osteopath is what I wanted to do,’’ she said. She applied to Rocky Vista University in Parker, Colorado, and was accepted into the university’s first graduating class. During her third and fourth years of medical school, she rotated among Colorado Health Medical Group physicians Dr. Alex Constantinides, a primary care physician; Dr. Larry Butler and Dr. Tiffany Willard, surgeons at Memorial Hospital; and Dr. Amy Curran, a Memorial hospitalist.
“We met in a gross anatomy lab over a dead body. It was very romantic,’’ Dr. Michopoulos said.
She said that at that point in medical school, most students are anxious and edgy, given the enormous academic demand of medical school. Elliott showed up in a white lab coat. He had drawn a caricature of a frazzled medical student – scalpels flailing – on the lapel of the coat. Underneath, he wrote the name “Elliott.’’
“I looked at his coat, and I asked him: ‘Is your name Eric or Elliott? And we’ve been together ever since,’’ she said.
Dr. Michopoulos loves being a doctor, and she is accepting patients of all ages at the Monument Clinic. She believes in the osteopathic way, and being able to do OMT on her patients and building relationships with each one is big for her.
“Osteopaths have more education in anatomy and physiology and treat the whole person,’’ Dr. Michopoulos said. “Being a family doctor is a specialized, and for lack of a better term, intimate profession. There is the opportunity to develop close and long-lasting relationships with people and to explore the right care and to get through challenges together.’’