In rural America, many patients worry that their primary healthcare provider is going to move away when their student loans are repaid or when the amenities of a larger town become more appealing. It’s unusual to find a healthcare provider seeking a smaller town to set up a practice.
Sheri Stofer, the new physician assistant at the Texas County Memorial Hospital Mountain Grove Clinic, did just that. But it came about in a very unusual way.
“I didn’t even know TCMH was building a new clinic in Mountain Grove,” Stofer explained.
Stofer had a friend from the Mountain Grove area that heard on the radio about the hospital’s plans to build a clinic in town. The friend took down the phone number and called Stofer.
“I received the call and decided to contact the hospital about the Mountain Grove clinic,” Stofer said.
Stofer worked for the hospital’s obstetrics department in the 1980s when she was an LPN. She had to leave the hospital for the birth of her second son but had good memories of her time at TCMH.
Stofer said she had been thinking about returning home to provide medical care.
“I missed the rural population,” she said.
Stofer moved to Mountain Grove when she was a high school student, and after 31 years she still calls Mountain Grove home. She lives on the family farm of her husband, Jeff. Together they have two sons, Justin and Jason, and they still live in Mountain Grove, too.
In addition to her time as an LPN at TCMH, Stofer worked in administration for an area home health agency. She worked for three years as an R.N. for longtime Mountain Grove physician Dr. Doyle Hill.
“Dr. Hill’s clinic became my point of reference for working with PAs (physician assistants),” Stofer said.
It was also in working with Hill’s patients that Stofer developed a desire to be more active in helping the patients manage their diabetes; as Hill’s nurse she did a lot of diabetic education.
Stofer applied to the University of North Dakota, which offered the only training program in the nation that allowed a registered nurse to bridge to a physician assistant. Stofer traveled back and forth between the university and her hometown, taking classes in North Dakota and doing clinical work in the Mountain Grove area.
“A PA is a mid-level provider that provides patient care and is supervised by a physician,” Stofer said, describing her specialized training. “I can provide chronic and acute care for patients as well as ordering referrals and therapies.”
When Stofer completed her training as a physician assistant, she went to work for Ralph J. Duda, M.D., at Ironbridge Diabetes and Endocrinology, a clinic in Springfield. Stofer became board certified as a diabetic educator and for seven years worked with Duda’s endocrinology patients – particularly patients with conditions such as osteoporosis, high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and thyroid conditions.
As a CDE (certified diabetic educator), Stofer provided advanced diabetic management skills.
“I am able to go above and beyond the regular scope of a nurse educator,” Stofer explained. “A CDE can ask the questions to help a patient delve deeper into his or her diabetes.”
Stofer describes diabetic education as “advanced self-management skills.” She helps patients learn how to count carbohydrates, find better techniques for managing their blood sugar and learn how an activity like exercise affects the medication the patient takes. She also helps patients that utilize insulin pumps.
Stofer is one of the only CDEs in the area; it takes about two years to become a CDE. Candidates to be CDEs must be an R.N., provide 1,000 hours of direct diabetic education to patients in a short period of time and pass a state certification exam. The certification must be renewed every five years.
Stofer noted that as a CDE other healthcare providers may refer patients to her to provide diabetic education for their patients.
At the Mountain Grove clinic, Stofer also plans to offer some specific support for patients utilizing insulin pump therapy.
“I have a liaison that works in south central Missouri helping patients with insulin pumps, and I have a wonderful opportunity to work with her and provide special assistance for pump patients in this area,” Stofer said.
At the Mountain Grove Clinic, Stofer also welcomes the opportunity to see patients of all ages — from birth to end of life — with a variety of healthcare conditions.
“When this opportunity came up, I jumped at it,” Stofer said. “After so many years of working in Springfield, I missed the rural population — the patients that I would see in the clinic and again in Wal-Mart while shopping for groceries.”
Many endocrinology patients from Texas and Wright counties and the surrounding area have seen Stofer when she worked at the Springfield clinic with Duda. The clinic closed in December when Duda took a job in another state, and Stofer started working for TCMH in February.
“I am thrilled to start work in a new clinic in my hometown,” Stofer said. She described the clinic as “beautiful” and “in the perfect location for directions – right across from McDonald’s.”
While waiting for the clinic to open in Mountain Grove, Stofer has been working at the TCMH Medical Complex in Houston, where she’s come to know more personally many staff members at TCMH.
“TCMH is truly a place with a family atmosphere, and what you see is what you get,” Stofer said. “The clinics are not left out of the hospital system, and we all work together.”
Stofer has also been working with Dr. Michael Moore, the family practice physician she will collaborate with in Mountain Grove.
“I have been very blessed to have this time getting to know Dr. Moore and people at the hospital,” Stofer said.
She has received training in the hospital’s electronic medical records program, and she’s already set up electronic files for the many patients from the area that are following Stofer from the Springfield practice to her new practice in Mountain Grove.
Stofer’s hometown and the rural patients she loves so much are never far from her thoughts.
“I am looking forward to being able to bring my experience with long-term disease management to my rural community,” she said. “I hope to help folks that may have had to travel to Springfield in the past.”
The patients of Sheri Stofer don’t need to worry about where she will be a few years down the road; she’s returned to her hometown to care for them. And she plans to stay.
Stofer will begin seeing patients May 5 at the Mountain Grove Clinic at 1905 West 19th St. She may be reached by calling 417-926-1770.