Match Day Q&A: Jake and Joel Katzer

Date: Friday, March 8, 2024

Hometown: Baldwin City, Kansas 

Undergrad: Morningside University


  • Jake: Family Medicine, John Peter Smith Hospital
  • Joel: General Surgery, Central Iowa Health System
Portrait of Joel and Jake Katzer

Tell us a bit about your background and experiences growing up.


Our dad worked for the Indian Health Service when we were little. He's an optometrist, and when we were born, he was working in Alaska. He would take bush planes out to all the unreachable Inuit villages and provide eye care. 

When we were 2 weeks old, we moved down to Montana, and my dad worked for Indian reservations near Billings. Eventually, he retired, and we moved outside of a small town in Kansas, and he started working for the VA there. So, we spent our whole childhood growing up in Kansas, living on a farm, and doing the chores. Our parents thought taking care of animals was integral to teaching us hard work and responsibility. 

When we got into grade school and high school, we played hockey, football, track, and wrestling. That was a big part of our lives all the way to college. We came to Iowa to play football at Morningside University, which is a small college in Sioux City. 

How did you decide you both wanted to be physicians?


My dad was in a health profession. He’d always talk about medicine with us, and the different avenues of medicine careers.  

We both have this integral memory in our childhood of waking up with a fever, feeling terrible, and we’d run upstairs and knock on our parents’ door to get our dad up. He would always pick us up, take us to the bathroom, and set us on the counter. He’d start rummaging around in the cabinet for what we needed to bring the fever down. Then he would explain exactly what was going on in our bodies. He’d tell us that this was just a virus, and the things we were feeling was our bodies fighting off the virus.  


For us, it meant that somebody knew what was going on and that we were going to be OK. We both felt that we wanted to be able to provide that to other people—that confidence that he knew what was going on, and that he would make us feel better. 

How has it shaped you that you’ve been together through all your life and education so far?


When people see that we’ve always been right next to each other, they assume it was by choice. But growing up we were, obviously, living in the same household. We have similar interests, so we’d always end up doing the same things. Starting with college, it was because we were so similar that we always ended up in the same place, because the right choice for each of us individually happened to be the same choice. 

When we went to college, we had the same ACT score and the same GPA. Our athletic accomplishments were basically the same in high school. We got one point different on the MCAT and the same GPA in college. So that led to us both getting into the University of Iowa, with similar financial support—and we decided to go to Iowa together. 


In a broader sense, I think what’s really been helpful is that we have always had someone driving us to work harder. We never wanted to lose to the other twin. We were always chasing each other our whole lives. That made us study longer and work harder. 

How are you feeling about the likelihood that your paths will diverge after Match Day?


Sometimes people ask, “Are you friends with your twin?” and we joke back to them, “Are you friends with yourself?” It feels that way; he’s always been there. If we both get our No. 1 preference, we will go to different places. It will be interesting to see, with the bond that we have, how it changes.  


Our whole lives, we’ve each had a measuring stick: How am I doing compared to Jake? It’ll be the first time we’re doing something totally independently, and we’ll have to find another person to chase in our respective fields. 

What got you both interested in practicing rural medicine?


We grew up in a small town, living in the country. You knew your neighbors, and your neighbors cared about you, and you cared about them. I’ve always admired that about small, rural communities. As I’ve come into my career in medicine, I want to give back to a community that’s similar to the one that gave so much to me. I think as a family medicine provider, or as a general surgeon, you're positioned to really care for those communities and provide the spectrum of care that they require.  


We love the people, but also, it’s a high-need population. So, we get to serve that population while doing the things we love—because in rural medicine, you have a broader scope of what you get to practice. I was a part of CRISP [Carver Rural Iowa Scholars Program], and it’s a great program to be a part of at the University of Iowa. I got to work on a project looking at colonoscopy in rural Iowa—who's doing it and how it changed through COVID. That was a really interesting opportunity. I also got to listen to informal lectures from different rural docs doing exactly what I want to do. 

What are your hopes and goals for the future, after residency training?


We both want to do rural medicine. I never had any specific place where I wanted to practice rural medicine, but my significant other’s family is from Iowa, so I’ll probably end up back here. 


It’s another great aspect about the specialties we chose. In a small town, to have a functioning hospital, you need at least one family medicine doctor and one general surgeon. So whatever community we land in, if we end up landing in the same one, we would be uniquely suited to take care of that.