A high school essay
When Gregg Miller was a high school senior, his English teacher submitted an essay he wrote on the Bill of Rights to a competition. He didn't know she was doing it and was shocked to learn he had won $1,000, an absolute windfall for a kid growing up in a single-parent house with no money to spare. His mom suggested he use the prize to participate in a mission to Honduras with a doctor from his church. The group planned to visit a remote village and offer health-care services.
"I was just so amazed at what the dentists and eye doctors and family doctors could do for this community," he says. "It was just really empowering to me."
When he came back, he decided to apply to a program at Rice University, a few hours away from his home in College Station, Texas. If he kept his grades up, the program would give him entry to Baylor College of Medicine. He flirted with a few other courses of study during college, but "nothing was ever strong enough to knock me off the path to becoming a doctor."
For Gregg, medicine offered the opportunity to do what his mother had instilled in him from a young age as a paramount value -- to help others.
Living in Africa
Gregg Aaron Miller was born on November 17, 1975 in Birnamwood, Wisconsin, to two former Peace Corps volunteers, Daniel Miller and Maureen Haggerty. After a move to Texas when Gregg was very young, Daniel and Maureen decided they wanted to take him and his younger brother, Joel, overseas to expose them to different people, places and ideas.
Daniel was a large-animal veterinarian and Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University, and he had the opportunity to teach in local colleges in Africa. When Gregg was 3 years old, the family moved to Bali where they lived in the capital city of Bamako. They returned to Texas for about a year when Gregg was in kindergarten and then moved to Botswana. Gregg went through 1st and 2nd grade there in a suburb called Sebile outside the capital city of Gaborone.
Maureen spent much of the time in Africa focused on raising the children though she also did some teaching for special education students in Botswana. The family had little money, but even then Gregg could sense how lucky they were. He knew he would always have enough to eat and the opportunity to go to school. That wasn't the case for everyone in Africa, and Gregg learned to see past his own small slice of community.
"You don’t really appreciate how you’re being shaped" at the time, Gregg says now. "In retrospect, what it taught me sort of subconsciously was an appreciation for how many different viewpoints there are out there in the world. Moreover, there is no right viewpoint."
Back to Texas
Even though Gregg had an extraordinary beginning to his life, to him it was just "a normal childhood." His favorite memories are of small moments -- his cat giving birth to kittens, he and his brother playing on termite mounds, or their going out into a cactus patch behind his house to watch for cobras.
The family moved back to Texas when Gregg was in third grade, and he found himself a bit alienated. He was an introvert; he didn't have the "right clothes," and he didn't quite fit into Texan culture after living in Africa. Still, he found friends and worked hard. He enjoyed school. He says he got a lifelong love of learning from his mom. She taught him, "You've always got to grow. You've always got to keep on learning."
In high school, Gregg was a self-described "total nerd." He found a good group of friends who enjoyed music. He took up the trumpet and played for two years, but, after getting braces, found that it just hurt too much to continue. So he took up the tuba.
"I was the scrawniest tuba player that they'd ever had," Gregg laughs. He was also really bad at it. But he didn't like being the worst tuba player in the band, so he started coming in every day half an hour early to practice. He now calls that a formative moment for him. "I was at the right age to realize that, if you practice something and work hard at it, you will become better."
He no longer plays the tuba, but the lesson has stuck with him, and he's trying to share it with his own kids. He also still enjoys music. "It's hard to take the tuba into your adult life," he laughs. "I wish I had learned that lesson from the piano or the guitar."
A sense of mission
At home, Gregg always drew on the strength of his mother, but his relationship with his father was strained. Maureen and Daniel divorced after moving back to Texas, and Maureen raised Gregg and Joel without much in the way of child support. Gregg remembers that there were some "tough financial issues" while he was growing up. Maureen taught special education at a local public school and tutored kids after school to earn more money.
Gregg sometimes helped by playing with one sibling while Maureen tutored another. And many of the kids she tutored had much less than his own family. Gregg would go with Maureen to deliver a bag of groceries, share some used toys, or just visit other families.
"She really instilled a sense of mission," Gregg says. "Your job in life is to help people out. And that is what is going to define you as a successful person. If you make this world a better place, that's success. My mother really lived that belief."
Still, Maureen also recognized the need to provide, and Gregg suspects that she helped push him onto the path of medicine because he could achieve two goals -- helping people and making enough money to some day give a comfortable life to his own family.
Becoming a doctor
After graduating from Rice with a BA in psychology in 1998, Gregg opted not to go to Baylor, but instead to "study abroad" in California. After spending so many years in Texas, he was sure he would come back, but the West Coast appealed to him. He got his medical degree from UC San Francisco in 2003 and then did his residency in emergency medicine in Los Angeles at Harbor-UCLA.
By that time, he had met his future wife. Kellie Schmitt was a journalist and the roommate of his own friend's girlfriend. By chance, he and Kelley had both booked the same flight to Peru. She was visiting a friend who worked for USAID, and he was studying sexually transmitted diseases in Peruvian brothels. They got seats next to each other and, after they'd landed, spent time together in Lima. Kellie's friend was working during the days, and Gregg was doing most of his research at night, so he showed Kellie around, taking her to his favorite spots, cool markets and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. They were smitten.
After a few years, they got engaged and decided they wanted to live overseas. Gregg found a job at Shanghai United Family Hospitals in China, and Kellie came along. But to get her a residency visa, they needed to be married. So, after hiking out near Yosemite on the Merced River, they got married on May 2, 2009 in a small ceremony officiated by one of their friends. Then they returned to China but flew back again later for a big party and to celebrate with friends and family.
They stayed in China for a couple more years but moved back to the U.S. in 2010. Gregg joined Vituity and worked first as an emergency physician at Olympia Hospital in Los Angeles and then as medical director at the San Joaquin Community Hospital Emergency Department. Thereafter he served as medical director at the Swedish Edmonds Emergency Department and director of quality and performance at Vituity.
Coping with Covid
Gregg and his family now live in Seattle, and he holds the position of chief medical officer at Vituity. He still loves the work of a doctor and also now feels proud to be able to develop systems that can help patients and physicians across 20 states.
The past year during the pandemic has been particularly intense for Gregg. As a doctor, he saw the first Covid-19 patient in his hospital just after the first U.S. deaths from the disease were announced in Seattle just down the road. He well remembers the fear and the threatening unknowns that abounded at the time, both in his workplace and for his family, which now includes sons Keane, 8, and Whitt, 5. He credits Kellie with keeping the family on firm footing emotionally as his sons worried for their father's safety.
As chief medical officer for Vituity, he has been focused seven days a week on providing information, educating staff, and coming up with best practices for patients and doctors. Vituity has lost one doctor during the pandemic, a tragedy that hit Gregg hard and redoubled his resolve to protect physicians.
He says he's found the work of so many people around him inspiring, especially during this time. "I work with particularly amazing physicians," Gregg says. "I’ve had opportunities to work with other groups and I've declined them, because I think there is something particularly special" about the people at Vituity. "I'm really proud that I've been able to assist them."
Being a dad
As so many have found, there have been small silver linings to the pandemic. When Gregg wasn't working, he reveled in the quiet, quality time with his wife and two sons. Instead of bouncy-house birthday parties, there was time spent hiking in the woods, hanging out together in a deserted park, or walking down to Puget Sound. "It really was a magical time for us," he says.
Gregg enjoys hiking and camping and has dabbled in piano during the pandemic. But the thing he loves doing most now is simply spending time with Kellie, Keane, and Whitt. He's trying to instill in his kids the same lessons he learned from his mother. He knows that his sons have many more privileges than he did growing up, so he wants to make sure they know how fortunate they are and how important it is to help.
Gregg says he's also found that having kids has changed his focus in life in general. "The children's success is more important to me than my own," he says. He means that not in the sense of financial success, great grades, or a leg up in the rat race -- but of the humane success championed by his mother. "I just want them to be happy, well-adjusted kids, able and willing to go out of their way for others."
To Gregg, there's no question what is most important in life: "My boys and my wife," he says. "I'm just incredibly proud. They're great kids. I feel very fortunate. I've got a great family."