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This Rural Mission

Feb 17, 2021

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This Rural Mission is a podcast brought to you by Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Family Medicine Department. We are so excited to bring you Season Three. I'm your host, Julia Terhune, and I hope you enjoy this episode.
When I first started this job, I was overcome with the needs of rural communities and the wonderful things that doctors get to do in their professions. I was, I guess you could say, fangirling a little about rural doctors. And I told my spouse that this was really what I wanted to do, that I think I wanted to be a doctor. So I had it all figured out. I was going to go to Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. I was going to do the TIP program at the Midland Family Medicine Residency, and then when it was all said and done, I was going to set up a practice with Scheurer Hospital in the Thumb.
Now, I have to tell you two very important things that came out of this conversation with my spouse. One, he instantly reminded me that I can barely handle a paper cut, let alone a surgery rotation, and he also reminded me that I would hysterically cry before every anatomy, biology, physiology and chemistry test that I took in college. He also reminded me that my GRE examination for grad school almost killed me with stress, so medical school is not in my future and I will stick to making rural doctors out of the likes of all of you.
But one subtle thing that also came out of this conversation was how much I love the Thumb community. Prior to starting with the College of Human Medicine I had never even been to the Thumb, but after six years of working with the Scheurer Hospital and the health departments and other agencies in these communities, I am smitten. I love the people from the Thumb. I love the history, I love the coastline, I love these communities. A story, not unlike many of our medical students, including Shelby Walker.
Yeah, so when I found out I would be going to Pigeon, I had never been there before. I don't think I had ever been to the actual Thumb before, maybe close to it but I don't think it was within what they count as the Thumb. And so I had my boyfriend at the time drive me out there just so I could see where I'd be going. So I thought it would make me feel a little bit more comfortable, and we got there and everything was so small. It was such a small town that I almost didn't believe that there was a hospital and a health system there that could especially accommodate students, so it was kind of an odd like, "What am I going to do for two years with a lot of time out in Pigeon?" It was a very odd feeling.
And so when we started, my first rotation of third year actually started in the Scheurer Health system with Dr. Scaddan in Sebewaing, and everyone was so welcoming and nice, and who let me do things, which as a third year medical student I was like, "Wait, am I qualified to do actual things?" And I think I had so many unique experiences out there because of where I was at. With Dr. Scaddan I got to be introduced to the ER, maybe a little bit earlier, and their definition of an ER was not what I had seen in the past but they still had some pretty intense situations and things that really were true emergencies that maybe you wouldn't expect in the middle of nowhere in, I think, a five-bed ER situation.
We went to the prison to do some healthcare with the inmates. That was an interesting experience that I wasn't really expecting when I had first pulled up into Pigeon. And from there I got to meet so many other amazing physicians and EPPs and just everyone there has been so nice [inaudible 00:05:05] Oh gosh, the administrative staff knows who you are when you show up to their meetings in the morning, because the physicians invite you to go with them to all of these meetings that you feel like you have no business really knowing what's going on, but they bring you to these meetings and the administration staff, they know who you are. They ask how you're doing, they asked how you're liking it. It was such an odd thing to, I guess, stumble into kind of on accident. I'm really grateful that I got that chance.
And if that's not enough anecdotal evidence to prove that Pigeon will win you over, well listen to this.
So I was talking to Chad about this, and then with Dr. Wendling actually, how odd this all turned out that I didn't want to go to Pigeon and I wanted to go to [Alma 00:05:57] and then I was like, "Okay, I'll do the nice thing." And Chad and I got engaged in Caseville. We went to Caseville on the beach.
Our rural medical affiliation with the Scheurer Hospital network didn't start just six years ago. We have a much longer history with the hospital and have been training students in Pigeon for more than 20 years. I sat down with the former CEO, Dwight Gascho, and the current CEO, Terry Lerash, who served and serve the Scheurer Health Network and learned just how it all got started.
Well, interesting story. I was working in Saginaw. I had a good position, felt satisfied, but my wife and I were on a Saturday afternoon or morning, we were standing in a field on an Amish farm in Gaylord or near Gaylord attending a wedding of a daughter of my CFO at the time, a guy that worked with me over many, many years. We were good friends so we got invited to the wedding and we're standing in this field and across the field walks Dwight and Theresa. And we had known each other for some time, Dwight and I had, probably over the last 20 years, involvement in hospital council, and health care executives, it's a pretty small circle in the State of Michigan. Most of us know each other.
Anyways, I said hello to Dwight. He says hello to me, and I said to Dwayne, "Well, I hear you are interested in retiring," and Dwight said, "Yes, I am. Would you like my job?" And I was a little bit stunned. Said, "Well, geez, I don't know." My wife was looking at me weird and I said, "Well, are you serious?" And he says, "Absolutely am serious." And he said, "Why don't you do me a favor? Why don't you come to Pigeon and just visit with me for a day? That's all I'm asking. No commitment, no strings attached, just come up and visit with me for a day."
And out of our friendship, I said, "Okay, I can do that. I can spare a day and run up to Pigeon. This is my old stomping ground anyways. I was born and raised in Bad Axe." So I had been away for probably 40 plus years from my hometown of Bad Ax and it was a chance for me to just get reacquainted with Huron County. So I drove up and I think within the first hour I was so enchanted with Scheurer Hospital because of its culture, friendliness, cleanliness, organization, and clearly Dwight's leadership was a big plus.
And as I talked with Dwight through the course of that day and learned more about Scheurer, I understood that the core values of the organization really matched me, kind of fit my dress code, if you will. And so I was intrigued and left and then made a subsequent visit and met with the board and long story short, here I am and I couldn't be happier. This was really a great opportunity for me [inaudible 00:09:29]
And as I reflect on that side of the story, my story would match it almost exactly. I was born and raised in the Pigeon area. I was on a farm, left for a few years for school and the service, et cetera. Came back in 1972 and in 1987, I was invited to serve on the Scheurer Hospital Board of Trustees. And we were having some issues at the time, and in 1990, the board asked if I would take the leadership position in the hospital as the CEO. And I agreed to do that on an interim basis saying, "I'll give it a shot, but if it doesn't work maybe I could help find the next leader." Well, after just a matter of a few months, the board took the interim assignment away and gave me the full-time assignment and so I worked here from 1990 until July of 2016, 26 years plus.
Obviously the hospital was struggling early on. The hospital became more profitable as years went by. We became more successful at recruiting young physicians. And there had been a gentlemen that had served on the board by the name of Loren Gettel. Loren Gettel was a farmer in this area and had a very strong interest in seeing students find opportunities to train in some rural community, and he put that bug in my ear. As a matter of fact, Julie, when I was being asked to serve, Loren asked the board chair if he could spend a day with me. And I'm fully aware of what it was. It was part of a program to see once if I passed the exam, so I think I was being vetted by Loren Gettel.
So we jumped in the car. We drove to MSU and we walked the campus of MSU. He's a very, very strong MSU campaign leader. I mean, he loves that organization. He was grinning away. And he showed me places that were memorable to him and he showed me plaques on walls where he had made contributions to the organization and he said, "Dwight, some how, some way we have got to find ways to introduce medical students to rural communities because I've lived in a rural community all my life." This is Loren speaking, "And candidly, it's a great place to live. It's a great place to raise kids and we've got great schools, great churches. There's all sorts of things that you can do around here and we've got to find ways to do this."
And that was something he just kept putting into my head. Unfortunately, he passed away from cancer just few years after I became CEO here in 1990 but his daughter, Peggy McCormick, continues to serve on the board of directors and she has a very similar burning desire to see some sort of a relationship with rural communities.
The Loren Gettel scholarship is a scholarship that our rural medical education students are still receiving today. And in fact, since 2010, 11 students have received this scholarship including Dan Drake who you heard just a few seasons ago and is going to be returning to the Thumb for practice in just a few short months.
Terry was not a hospital CEO, but he was running an organization at the time that was an important part of the whole council and that's was Synergy Medical Educational Alliance.
So I was, quite frankly, offering to the hospital council opportunities for them to perhaps have students in their communities and in their hospitals, if they were able to provide the right types of resources. Well, after that hospital council meeting, I had two calls. One of them was from Dwight, in fact he was the first one that called me. And I think he probably was reflecting on Loren's message to him, and saw this was a great opportunity and so he called me and he asked if we could talk more about becoming a MSU student site. And so we worked through all the details. I can't remember all the details involved, but I remember driving two students up here and one of them was by the name of Kimiko Sugimoto. And she is now a general surgeon who actually completed the MSU rotation, her general surgery rotation in Saginaw, and is practicing in Saginaw as a general surgeon as we speak.
But she was one of the first students to come to Pigeon, and Dwight was so gracious in entertaining them and took them to board meetings and got them involved and connected with all sorts of things here at the hospital and they had a wonderful experience. And I can't even remember what the length of the rotation was but I know your physicians got involved in-
It was actually a little longer than what it was supposed to be. It just stretched out. That was a first for them and a first for us, and so we were thrilled and enthralled to have these young students. Of course, they're brilliant kids and they're so much fun, they're very respectful. I included them in my leadership meetings and learn from what we were doing. I wanted them to get as much of an experience in a rural setting as they possibly could get. So medical staff meetings, board meetings, leadership meetings, interact with the patients, interact with the staff, it was all part of it.
And I think that we got raving reviews after that about their experience in Pigeon 20 years ago. And so I look at Scheurer Hospital as really a teaching hospital, and so we've built that culture. We, meaning Dwight, for many, many years, and me most recently, built a culture of a teaching organization and I think that started 20 years ago with Dr. Sugimoto, actually, as that first student.
That involvement with the leadership at our rural hospitals is one of the pillars of our rural medical education certificate, one that really lands with students and makes an impact. Pigeon makes a place for aspiring rural medical doctors, a place where people can come back and grow. People like Elizabeth and our recent graduate, Evan. Elizabeth is a native of Cass City who, when I interviewed her, was planning to go back to the Thumb for her medical education and now is halfway through her third year of medical schooling. Evan recently graduated medical school and is completing an internal medicine residency in Detroit.
Yeah, I am super excited to go back. I recently had the opportunity to shadow at Scheurer and had some downtime and was able to go back down to the floor and see a lot of the nurses and the nurses aides that I worked with, and it just made me even more excited to go back there and be back with that group of people and in that environment and continue my education there. And I think it's really important if you eventually want to serve in a rural area to see how rural medicine is different. I can tell you, I had my adult wards rotation for second year at Sparrow this morning and it's way different. It's a different environment, there's different types of cases, so I'm excited about that.
I'm excited to develop those relationships that you get to develop in rural areas that you don't get so much in bigger hospitals, relationships with patients and relationships with colleagues, other physicians, other employees in the hospital. I'm really excited to be a part of that and just be a part of that group and that kind of close knit community again.
I think the thing that's going to stick with me is that the sort of idealized version of a physician or what a doctor could be, sort of that dream, is still alive in a lot of places. I think a lot of times we get down on what medicine is becoming or has become or how it's changing and how the role of the physician is changing, and maybe it's not what we had thought. You know, a country doctor making house visits, knowing all their patients, delivering babies and doing minor surgeries and really being that do-it-all type of doctor who's also involved in their community, who's also a community leader. We don't see that as much anymore, I think, especially in bigger cities.
But having that experience in a rural community shows me that it's still possible. I've met plenty of physicians who were that do-it-all type of person. They were in covering shifts in the ED in the night and then in the morning they were in their clinic and after that they were on the board of the hospital and they still made it to their kids' sports games where they were the sports medicine physician there, and they were on the Rotary Club board as well. I mean, they were just in every facet of their community, being that leader and being that physician and everybody knew them.
And so I think it gives me inspiration that I can be the type of physician some day that I think I always wanted to be, or I was always really intrigued by. And I think that's a really great image and vision to sort of hold onto as you go through your training and ultimately look at how you want to set up your practice in life and where you want to end up.
I am proud and MSU is proud of our partnership with the Scheurer Hospital system and all of the hospitals, clinics and health departments that we get to work with in the Thumb region. All of these places have significantly contributed to our students' rural medical education, places like Hills & Dales Hospital in Cass City, McKenzie Health System in Sandusky, the Harbor Beach Community Hospital, and the Huron County, Tuscola County and Sanilac County Health Departments have all been taking our students for many years. The leaders of all of these facilities have become our friends and have taken on so much for our students. I can't even begin to thank them. They have provided not only a place for medical education during regular times and pandemic times, but they've been mentors and leaders that have provided students with perspectives they wouldn't have gotten anywhere else.
On top of that, they have constantly supported our program, our Pipeline program, and even things like this podcast. They have gone above and beyond to be so much more than just medical education partners and I think that that's one of the most important things about rural medical education is that you can't walk into a rural educational environment and not leave with family, friends and a brand new community. So we love Scheurer, we love the Thumb, but what do those who receive care from Scheurer think? I spoke to Lynn and Abby who not only receive medical care from Scheurer Health professionals, but are also employees.
The more we grow, it gives the community another option and they're like, "Oh, well, oh, they can do that there. Okay, well, I'm going to go there then or request services there."
It goes back to not being a number. Really, everywhere that you go here, they know you. They know your family, they know something about you, and they built a Meijer in Bad Axe that opened in July [crosstalk 00:21:40] We've got a clinic in there and things that can't get handled there, they can do at the Bad Axe site, and if they can't do it at the Bad Axe site they can send them to Pigeon. So it's all within... What is it? We have something within 12 miles of each other always.
[crosstalk 00:21:57]
Thank you for listening to this podcast. I want to thank Dwight and Terry for taking time to speak with me, along with Shelby, Liz, Evan, Lynn, and Abby for their contributions to this episode. As always, thank you to Dr. Wendling for making this podcast a priority. I love getting the opportunity to hear and tell these stories. Also, Dr. Wendling, herself, is from the Thumb just adding more proof to the theory that some of the best doctors come from the pollex, the scientific term for Thumb. See, I learned something in anatomy. The Thumb is a wonderful place, a place where you can really make rural your mission.
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