MOHALL -- Those who had watched "Northern Exposure" on television in the 1990s are probably familiar with the plot: a New York City medical student is forced to work in the Alaskan community that helped fund his education.
A similar situation is going on in Mohall, although Ruth Stanley couldn't be happier to be here.
Of course, Stanley, who is from Sherwood, isn't that far from home and she can complete her mission: to preserve health care in rural areas.
James C. Falcon/MDN - - Ruth Stanley stands outside her office at the Trinity Community Clinic in Mohall. Stanley, who has worked as a nurse for 20 years, became a physician’s assistant at the clinic after she was approached by the Renville Bottineau Memorial Hospital Board to fill the vacancy. They helped pay for her education on the condition that she remain in the community for about three years.
It began when her sister, who was a nurse at the now-defunct Renville Bottineau Memorial Hospital, approached her.
"She said, 'Why don't you be a nursing assistant for a while?'" Stanley said. "And that's all it took."
When she graduated from high school, she did some part-time nursing assistant jobs at the hospital. "I come from a family of three sisters, who are nurses, and a sister-in-law, who is a nurse too. It's kind of in the family."
Stanley started at the Trinity School of Nursing in 1984 and, upon her graduation as a registered nurse, she returned to Mohall and the hospital. For a few months, she also worked at the Good Samaritan Center, also in Mohall. She was then a traveling nurse for Home Health and Hospice-Trinity, and during her clinical work, worked for a physician's assistant for a doctor's private practice in the region.
In 2006, the Renville Bottineau Memorial Hospital downgraded to a smaller facility, which became the Trinity Community Clinic-Mohall. The clinic is owned half by the hospital board, which remains active, and half by Trinity.
Vance Undlin, chairman of the board, said that, by that time, the clinic was without a physician's assistant or a nurse practitioner for about eight to 10 months. The previous physician's assistant had to resign due to family circumstances, Undlin said.
"We left it up to Trinity. Trinity was the one that did the search," Undlin said. "(The board) decided to look more long-term to have someone available in the future," he said.
After hearing that Stanley had an interest in moving up to becoming a nurse practitioner -- Undlin said that the role would be "a level above the physician's assistant" -- they approached her about filling in the vacancy. If she agreed, the board would help pay for her education. However, there was a proviso: She would need to stay in the community for three years.
"They'll have to kick me out of here," said Stanley, a Sherwood native, with a smile. "I can live in Sherwood, work in Mohall, and help provide care for people I've known for years."
Stanley first attended online classes part-time at the University of Phoenix for her bachelor's degree in nursing. Then, for two years, she attended the Concordia University of Wisconsin, also online, to achieve her master's degree in nursing.
"I could do my clinicals right here in this office," she said as she sat in her office at Trinity.
In addition to the hospital board's funds, St. Joseph's Community Foundation, of Minot; the City of Mohall's Sales Tax Fund; the American Legion Bothun-Peterson Post No. 213, of Sherwood; and the Renville County Job Development Authority, chipped in to help send Stanley to school.
On Aug. 22, Stanley started a new chapter in her medical career as a health care provider for her hometown.
"I am very lucky to have the foundation support me and have the trust in me to provide this opportunity," Stanley said.
The inclusion of Stanley as a physician's assistant to the community clinic's staff was an important move. Undlin pointed out that with a lack of health care providers, rural citizens weren't getting the proper medical services.
While Mohall has an estimated population of 850 people, Undlin said that the surge of population has been a boost to the clinic. But now, he said, "We're very busy."
He noted that because of Trinity's involvement, quality health care is afforded to the rural areas. It is able to provide modern health care through its expertise in information technology and X-ray labs.
"Trinity has been terrific for the community," he said.
Stanley said that the clinic had included women's health among its missions.
"The (physician's assistant) that was here before had done some, but not to the extent I want to do it," she said.
Stanley's role would include gynecological conditions or diseases, as well as reproductive health. Mammograms were already being done at the clinic, she added.
"We are pretty complete, once we get into women's health," she said, although more outreach on self-care and awareness would fully round out the program.
The fact that the clinic also has Dick Paige, a physician's assistant at the clinic for about three years, is a boon because "a man may not want to go to a female provider," Undlin said.
In November, the clinic will be renovated to make room for the providers. On that note, Undlin said that the board may embrace the project of fueling the education of another health care provider in order to keep health care active in Mohall.
"As long as we can get some other entities on board, it's something we'd be interested in doing in," Undlin said. "You have to be pro-active."