Photographer Profile Series
Managing editor note - Stephanie Irwin posted this photo last December in a Facebook group we follow. We asked permission to feature it and invited her to join our group of 250+ contributing photographers. She accepted and has had several photos featured since then. Later we learned that she and her husband Brad are physicians at St. Lukes who chose to #befromDuluth. – Jerry Thoreson
Doctors Brad and Stephanie Irwin
Duluth “Transplants” Enjoy Everything the City has to Offer
By Andrea Busche
Drs. Brad and Stephanie Irwin, a married couple, are “Pretty much the same person,” according to Stephanie. When listed side-by-side, their similarities are certainly quite striking.
Both are gastroenterologists at St. Luke’s; Brad also serves as Chief for the Gastroenterology Division.
Both have a strong passion for outdoor activities and travel.
Both place a high value on volunteer work and giving back to the community.
Both of their fathers (who were both business owners) passed away when Stephanie and Brad were only 12 years old. Their mothers were both nurses.
And, last, but not least, both are Duluth transplants; Brad moved to Duluth in 2010, and Stephanie in 2020.
While today, the couple have settled in, and enjoy an active and happy life in Duluth’s Congdon neighborhood, they were a little uncertain about the Northland at first. “Duluth wasn’t my first choice,” said Brad – who hails from Franklin, Pennsylvania – with a chuckle. “I really wanted a warmer climate.”
After a brief adjustment period, however, the Irwins are now some of Duluth’s biggest cheerleaders.
As noted, Brad was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Stephanie is originally from Frankenmuth, Michigan.
The Irwins both share that they were inspired to become physicians after watching their mothers work as nurses; but also, after experiencing the trauma associated with losing their fathers at an early age. Stephanie’s dad died of a myocarditis, and Brad’s dad died of cancer.
Brad earned his undergraduate degree from Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA, and Stephanie from Hope College in Holland, MI. The couple first met when they were both attending medical school at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. They were friends for over a decade before becoming a couple.
Brad was the first to take the leap and move to Duluth. “I found my partners (GI docs) at St. Luke’s, along with the hospital, to be very collegial, and really a great fit.” And, while he may have initially wanted to move somewhere warmer, “I’ve always loved the winter,” he said.
Stephanie was interested in a career move when she contacted Brad. The two reconnected, and ultimately began dating.
The special connection that ensued wasn’t just between the Irwins; it also became a love affair with Duluth.
“When we were dating, I also fell in love with Duluth,” Stephanie said. “My family had a boat when I was a child, and I have always loved being on the lake. With its shipping industry, biking, hiking and running trails, outstanding opportunities for photography, and other activities, Duluth couldn’t have been a better fit for me.”
Stephanie joined Brad here in 2020, and the couple were married a little over a year ago.
Hobbies and Interests
The Irwins’ professional lives as physicians are busy, and oftentimes demanding. Stephanie and Brad regularly conduct medical procedures, such as colonoscopies and endoscopies; see patients both in the hospital and during outpatient clinics; and, about every two weeks, they both participate in outreach opportunities in Hibbing and Two Harbors.
The life of a doctor can be hectic. Typically, the Irwins begin their work day at 7 or 8 AM, and work until 4 or 5 PM. However, when they are on call, they must also wear a pager and be available 24/7, with occasional trips back to the hospital to perform emergency procedures at night.
When the two aren’t working, they like to relax and take full advantage of their hobbies and interests. The Irwins both enjoy boating, fishing, skiing, biking, running, swimming, snowshoeing, paddleboarding, jet skiing, completing races, traveling, and more. They are both looking forward to running Grandma’s Marathon this year, followed by several triathlons.
Stephanie is also starting her work toward the OUPV (six-pack) Captain’s license. “You just can’t beat being out on Lake Superior,” she said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and will be a meaningful achievement for me.”
Another of Stephanie’s passions is photography. She enjoys shooting local landscape images with her trusty Canon R5.
While Stephanie is the artist, Brad plays a significant supportive role in the endeavor. “Brad enjoys driving me to the best sunrise locations, and we cherish this time together enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise,” Stephanie said. “Sunrises on the Big Lake tend to be particularly beautiful here.”
“I’m the purveyor of instruments,” Brad added. Stephanie has had several of her images featured with Destination Duluth.
Family and Other Extracurriculars
The Irwins have already become deeply enmeshed in supporting their new community. They are members of the Harbortown Rotary group, and both are actively involved in their church, Peace in Christ Lutheran Church in Hermantown.
The Irwins are a blended family, with three adult children: Jack (20), Ashley (24), and Cassidy (26). They also have an English Cream Golden Retriever named Dozer.
While Duluth may not have been the Irwins’ first choice, they have come to absolutely adore their adopted hometown. “Duluth is a small town, and we can get to know our patients very well. It’s a little more personal,” Brad explained.
“The people here are down-to-earth and have been particularly welcoming and supportive,” Stephanie added. “And we feel so at home at St. Luke’s.” Since relocating, the couple have both also been featured on the local PBS show, “Doctors on Call.”
Another big draw for the Irwins was Duluth’s good school system, along with the plethora of outdoor activities to choose from. “Our kids were still in elementary and middle school when we came here, and the schools were great, but there are great colleges, too, and that was a big draw. And when it comes to outdoor activities, there is any sport you can think of,” Brad said.
“It’s a small town with a lot of amenities, and a short commute,” he added. “There is good entertainment, great sporting events, and amazing water activities, between the Big Lake and inland lakes. You really don’t ever get bored here – year-round.”
Stephanie submitted the photo below of her and Brad standing on the Aerial Lift Bridge operator deck.
We happened to be out walking our dog, Dozer, on a nice fall day in Canal Park, and the bridge tender called down to us and asked us if we had wanted to see the operations of the bridge. There also happened to be a freighter arriving. It was a dream come true for me! Brad and I walked up to the bridge, and the bridge tender gave me the opportunity to perform a salute to welcome the freighter into port. It's one of the most memorable experiences of my life.