The moment you meet Zoe you know she’s something special. You don’t know what kind of special, but you’re about to find out. Her fresh, wholesome look invites conversation. Her voice is filled with tenderness and she’s quick to laugh. She’s a violinist and horsewoman (since the age of four), and married with two young children. Most importantly to our small community, she’s an experienced physician.
Until her last year of college, Zoe never entertained the idea of becoming a doctor. “My mom’s twin sister was a pediatrician and worked late every day. I wanted to be like my parents and be home in time for dinner with my family.”
The only child of Loraine and Ray Duff, Zoe grew up in Caspar in a house overlooking the ocean. She graduated from Mendocino High in 1993 and went to UC Davis. “I lived in an honors dorm, surrounded by focused, intelligent people. My roommate became a chemical engineer.” In her last year of college, Zoe planned to further her education, but in what? “I thought about taking the GRE or applying to vet school. Instead, I took the MCAT, applied to medical schools, and got accepted at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University. Everything flowed so I went with it.”
She graduated from medical school in 2001 and accepted a three-year family medicine internship in Modesto. It was there she rekindled a friendship with Myke Berna who was a former boyfriend of one of her college friends. Myke worked as a bicycle mechanic in Davis. “He’s been fixing bikes since the age of 12.” The friendship blossomed into romance. “We went to Costa Rica over Christmas 2002 and I expected him to propose. He didn’t.” She laughed. “Instead, he gave me a very expensive mountain bike and a pair of diamond earrings soon after we got home.” She smiled as she pointed to earlobes graced by those earrings. He eventually proposed and they were married in 2004.
Zoe practiced Family Medicine with Sutter Health in Vacaville then Winters where Myke opened the bike shop Velo City. Along the way, they had two children—Emily (eight) and Max (six). Having kids sparked a desire to move back to the North Coast. “I wanted to live closer to my parents and raise my children there. I also wanted to start horseback riding again with my mom and share this with my children.” Myke agreed and she looked for job opportunities.
“I was offered a position with the North Coast Family Health Center in December 2015. In June, we moved from Winters and I took a month off. Seven weeks after my start date, I fell off my horse and broke my left humerus [the long bone in the upper arm]. Despite trying to sit still for two months and keep my arm stable, I ended up requiring surgery, plates and pins. It was so hard because I’m such a doer. I was finally able to start work in January 2016.”
Like many couples with young children, Zoe and Myke juggle their busy schedules to provide childcare and spend time together. Myke still owns Velo City and travels to Winters a couple times a month. He also operates a bike repair business from their home. Zoe has Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off. Her parents babysit two afternoons a week. “My mom also helps by making us dinner a couple times a week.”
On her full days, Zoe sees 18 patients. She acknowledges that such a rigorous schedule can cause burnout. “I’ve been told that in order to avoid this, doctors need to make a deep connection with at least two patients a day. I connect with every patient. I love getting to know people and finding ways to help them get better.”
Besides spending time with family, she’s made new friends and is delighted to have reconnected with those who never left the area. Zoe, Loraine, and Emily ride their horses in Jackson State Forest. Like her mother, Emily began playing the violin at age four. Mother and daughter often play together. Zoe played throughout college and medical school and recently performed with the Symphony of the Redwoods and during the Mendocino Music Festival.
Zoe notes changes in the area from her time as a child. “The summertime traffic is a lot heavier and it seems there aren’t as many Mom and Pop stores. I remember Brown’s Market where my parents used to buy half a cow. The student population in Mendocino has gotten smaller. There were 65 kids in my graduating class. There are only 25 in each of my kids’ classes. However, the solitude, the beauty, the wonderful community of people and the arts remain the same. I never want that to change.”
Zoe is delighted with her return to the North Coast, and describes practicing medicine in a small town medicine as awesome. “I love that my medical assistant also grew up here. Together we already know many of our patients and how to work with the local population.”
“I’m getting to know people I knew before, but in a different context—as patients. I’m no longer the kid. I’m a doctor. Sometimes, though, it’s hard. Before I walk into a room, I’ll think, ‘This is the last time I’m going to know this person in the way I used to.’ I have to remind some of them that I have 16 years of experience and can tell them what to do.” She laughs.
What a gift this special woman has given us by settling here with her young family and sharing her skills as a physician to promote the continued health of our community.