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For many Mitchell-raised doctors, there's no place like home

For Aaron Baas, there's no place like home. After years of medical studies and training, the Mitchell native wants nothing more than to return to South Dakota and begin practice where his father, the late Dr. Walter Baas, left off. Set to finish ...

Destination: Mitchell
Mitchell native Aaron Baas works during a recent shift at a hospital in Wichita, Kan. Baas will move to Mitchell in 2010 and practice medicine locally. (Submitted Photo)

For Aaron Baas, there's no place like home.

After years of medical studies and training, the Mitchell native wants nothing more than to return to South Dakota and begin practice where his father, the late Dr. Walter Baas, left off.

Set to finish his residency in Wichita, Kan., next year, Baas, 30, only considered Avera Queen of Peace in Mitchell, so sure was he that he would follow in his father's footsteps and practice medicine in his hometown.

Baas is a graduate of Mitchell Christian High School and married his high school sweetheart, Jessica, who grew up in nearby Bridgewater. He will join the staff of Avera Mitchell Surgical in 2010.

"We love the area and feel like it's still home for us," Baas said. "Avera offers the chance to practice bread-and-butter general surgery, which is what I enjoy. They have a nice-sized group and a supportive working environment."

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When it comes to deciding where they will practice, doctors have a full plate of factors to digest. Proximity to family and friends was the main factor the Baases considered when deciding to return to Mitchell with their three children, Jocelyn, 6, Ryan, 4, and Jason, 2.

Though Baas hasn't lived in Mitchell for 13 years, he said he misses knowing everybody's name and being able to drive across town in 10 minutes.

He's not alone in his commitment to coming home to practice in Mitchell, nor is his familial connection to medicine unique in town.

Jarett Howe is another upcoming addition to Avera Queen of Peace who has local roots. Howe's parents, Dr. Jerome and Teri Howe, came to Mitchell in 1981 as part of the hospital's recruitment efforts. Jarett is completing his residency in El Paso, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Vicki.

"We are having a great time in the Desert Southwest, and the weather is unbeatable," he said. "We still feel like home should be in the Upper Midwest, though, and we're anxious to return."

Howe is set to join Avera Mitchell Surgical in 2011.

"It is a nice, caring, small community whose residents support each other in times of need," he said. "The facilities are top-notch and rival many of the larger academic and private institutions I have visited in Texas."

Avera Queen of Peace has a number of Mitchell natives either on staff or scheduled to take up residence and practice in the coming months and years. According to Rise Waldera, director of physician recruitment, the hospital makes it a priority to recruit doctors with local and regional ties.

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"That's our main goal," Waldera said. "We're more successful when we target those people who have ties to South Dakota."

Waldera's job includes identifying medical students from the area, following their progress over their schooling and residency, and encouraging them to take up practice in Mitchell. She focuses much of her concentration on recruiting students from the University of South Dakota's medical program, the only one of its kind in the state.

When a candidate is identified who might be a good match for the hospital and community, the candidate is invited to tour the hospital facilities, meet staff, and explore the schools, neighborhoods and city. The candidate's credentials and compatibility with the hospital are examined, as well as references, academic and clinical performance, and the hospital's need for that particular specialty.

Trish Delaney, vice president of marketing at Avera Queen of Peace, said the practice ensures quality health care for patients.

"From experience, we know that a physician with ties to Mitchell or the region is certainly more apt to spend their entire medical career in Mitchell and develop long-term relationships with the families that they care for," Delaney said. "Certainly, the best and brightest are considered. This is a great opportunity for consideration, both on the part of the doctor who is being recruited and the hospital."

Family ties

Family ties bind a number of health-care professionals in Mitchell.

Growing up, Dr. Jon Olegario always admired his father, Filemon, an ophthalmologist who retired in 2007.

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Now Jon Olegario has his own practice in Mitchell in the very building in which his father practiced. Olegario and his wife, Lori, even bought his childhood home and are raising their own sons there.

"My wife and I were both raised in Mitchell and liked the idea of raising our children in the area," he said. "I also knew of the need for medical providers in the area and felt that I could give back to the community."

He was born in the Philippines and moved to Mitchell as a fourth-grader.

"Practicing in Mitchell has been wonderful for me," he said. "You tend to know more individuals and families that you take care of when it is in a town that you were raised in. You can see the impact that you bring to the community in a familiar town the size of Mitchell."

Dr. Shawn Haley, an anesthesiologist, also stayed in town and took up health care in the footsteps of his father, Dr. Michael Haley, as did Haley's sister, Dr. Hilary Jarman, a dentist. And there are father-son/father-daughter dentist combinations practicing in town, including Drs. Don Dailey and Matthew Dailey and Drs. D'Orsay Winthers and Amber Determan.

Direct employment

In the past few years, Avera has developed a new tool to recruit doctors: direct employment.

Prior to 2007, the hospital's doctor staff was not actually employed by Avera -- they physically worked there but ran their own practices. Now doctors have that choice, and it's one Delaney said many are accepting.

"Physicians coming out of residency training, in this day and age, they want to be employed. They don't want to take care of business aspects -- they want to take care of patients," Delaney said.

The incentives to working directly for the hospital include guaranteed income and assistance with moving expenses. And by joining hospital staff, doctors don't have to worry with the business headaches of operating their own practice.

With an average of 12 years invested in their medical training, doctors typically take a great deal of care when making decisions with the career they've selected. Medical schooling includes four years of undergraduate work, four years of graduate work, and three to eight years of residency -- the time when doctors train in their chosen specialty of practice.

"If you can recruit people who have ties to South Dakota, there's a much better return rate," Delaney said. "If, we as an economy, want to survive some rough times, we have to pull together and support each other."

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