Doctors wanted. Apply within.

By Arne Vainio, M.D.
I can’t believe I’ve been a doctor at the Min-No-Aya-Win clinic for fifteen years. It seems like just yesterday I was starting medical school and not long before that I was working in the woods in northern Minnesota cutting jack pine for $5.00 an hour.
Time goes fast.
When I was a professional firefighter and paramedic in Virginia, Minnesota in the late 1980s, I was certain I had found my calling and my destiny. I was extremely happy there and my fellow firefighters were my brothers in every sense of the word. I learned to depend on them for my life and they knew they could depend on me. I had no idea at the time that my path included medical school.
But here I am. I grew up without indoor plumbing and we only occasionally had running water. We didn’t get electricity until I was in the 5th grade. We hardly ever got new clothes and eating in restaurants was out of the question.
There are times when I think I don’t deserve all the good things that have happened to me. I get to go to work every single day with the most intelligent and caring people I have ever met. This includes everyone in the clinic and everyone in the hospitals we work in.
The Fond du Lac reservation has made huge changes just in the 15 years I’ve been there. There is a new high school, the clinic has expanded and we were one of the first clinics in the area to have electronic medical records. We have a beautiful dental clinic, pharmacy, a behavioral health department that includes brain wave optimization, a physical medicine department with chiropractic, massage and physical therapy and we have an X-ray department and will be getting digital X-rays soon.
We have the main clinic on the reservation and we have a sister clinic 30 miles north in the city of Duluth. This clinic is the Center for American Indian Resources, or CAIR and they offer many of the same services.
We have four doctors, a physician’s assistant, two certified nurse midwives and six nurse practitioners for a patient population of just over 7,000 between the two clinics. Our doctors see patients in two hospitals and we do prenatal care and do our own deliveries in the hospitals along with our nurse midwives. Our physician’s assistant is also the clinic director and he practices homeopathic medicine in addition to conventional western medicine. We see a high rate of diabetes and many of our patients are complicated and take more time. The reservation has wisely decided to allow us to have longer visits with our patients so we can try to cover all concerns at any given visit.
We have a public health nurse department and cancer prevention services and we do many of our own labs in the clinic and are able to get the labs we can’t run back the next day. We read our own x-rays so we can go over them with patients and then send them out to be over read by a Radiologist.
We have a chronic pain program to help patients live without narcotic medicines and this program is run by one of our physicians. We have a strong Diabetes Prevention Program with dietician services and personal trainers to help with healthier lifestyles.
Because we have patients in the Duluth hospitals, all of our physicians live about 30 miles north of the reservation in Duluth. Duluth has a population of 86,277 and is located on the western tip of Lake Superior. Lake Superior is vast and the water is clear and deep. The rocky shores are spectacular winter and summer. Park Point and the shipping canal in Duluth are major tourist attractions and Bayfront Park is the venue for the Bayfront Blues Festival every August. Grandma’s Marathon is a world class event and the course runs right along the shores of Lake Superior.
Duluth and Cloquet are family oriented cities with multiple parks and events.
The Fond du Lac reservation has hosted an Ojibwe language immersion camp for the last four years. Every year it gets bigger and this past June had over 700 people registered during the course of the four days. Fond du Lac Community College is a two year college and is a beautiful campus built around the traditions of the Ojibwe people.
We have been looking for two more physicians to join us for well over a year and we need them to admit and follow our patients in the hospitals and to be able to do prenatal care and deliver babies in the hospitals.
Using the conventional method of having a recruiter help us find these physicians hasn’t seemed to work out very well. I don’t know why that is. I guess I assumed we would have doctors pushing each other out of the way to come and work with us. All of our providers are in this for the long haul and one of our doctors has been here for 21 years. We have a dentist who has been here for 30 years. Many of our nurses and other members of our staff have been here for well over a decade.
Maybe we aren’t doing everything we can to get the word out. Consider this an open invitation and a call for two physicians to come and work with us. This is not just a job or even just a career. This is a life. Working on the Fond du Lac reservation for the past 15 years has been a gift and a blessing to me.
I could not possibly have asked for more.
There have to be doctors just out of residency, getting ready to finish their residency or already in practice who are looking to practice medicine the way medicine was meant to be practiced. I see doctors who get burned out by the pressures of seeing patients in rapid succession for single issues only as they don’t have time to cover more.
This isn’t the doctor’s fault. This is a systems fault and it’s a difficult and stressful system to work in. I know of reservations where the medical staff doesn’t have the support they need to provide health care the way it should be provided and have to watch out for political issues. That is definitely not the case here. This has been my dream job from the day I started and it still is. Every single day.
Are you a physician looking for a change or do you know a physician who would be a good fit for us?
We want to hear about it. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll get things started.
Arne Vainio, M.D. is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and is a family practice physician on the Fond du Lac reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota.