Mississippi Native Is Living a Dream
RIDGWAY – Sarah Lauderdale, the new certified family nurse practitioner at Mountain Medical Center, suggested we conduct our interview outside. “I’d love to get out in the sunshine on my break,” she said. So, we walked the river trail through the park, past the railroad trestle, and back to the office on Sherman Street.
Lauderdale is 29, tall and willowy, with delight infusing her speech and outlook. In a soft Mississippi accent she said, “I drive over Dallas Divide [she lives in Telluride with a childhood friend] every day and I think, look at this beautiful country! It’s almost too perfect – something bad is going to happen.” That last is a nervous cliché; as soon as the words escaped, her laughter banished the thought.
It is true that the sequence of events leading to her hiring at MMC seems almost preordained. “I finished up my internship [for her nursing masters at Vanderbilt University] in August, I took the boards in October, and I was hired at Mountain Medical in November.”
The Ridgway clinic appears to be a perfect fit. And they needed her. Health care providers in the community had moved on, in more ways than one. Longtime local integrative medicine doc Patty Ammon died unexpectedly in August. Her widower, Dale Yocum, a nurse practitioner at MMC, needed a change and now works in Montrose. Then late last year, 16-year MMC veteran Dr. Dave Sherwood decided he was ready to open a one-man practice on his own.
In a time of transition, Lauderdale feels ready to step in, especially in the areas she is most passionate about: preventative medicine, wellness and the health of the whole human being.
As a nurse practitioner, Lauderdale has the same “prescriptive and examination privileges” as a physician, and she will of course be dealing with all of her patients’ health issues. But, she said excitedly, “I’m working on starting a wellness program, one that will design individual health programs, for women, primarily,” who are, she noted, seem most at ease with a woman provider in the exam room. “The program will be for people who want to manage their weight, quit smoking, exercise more. Lots of people want to change, get healthier, and they don’t want to just take a pill. This will be a 12-month program – you’re not going to change behavior in three weeks – and there will be the support of other people with the same goals.”
Lauderdale veered toward holistic, healthy medicine after six years as an ICU nurse in the heart and lung transplant unit at the University of Alabama Birmingham, where she got her B.S. “It was horrible, frankly.” Seeing people at the narrow, and very expensive, edge of the health care system. “I was inspired to practice health maintenance.
“Nursing is founded on the theory of holism,” she wrote in an introductory letter, “[caring for] the whole individual, including the connection between the physical body, emotion, spirituality, social/cultural context, and environment.” She wanted to influence people, of all ages, before they became ill.
But before returning to grad school at Vanderbilt, Lauderdale visited a friend with an arts internship at the Ah Haa School in Telluride. She had relatives in Denver, but had not explored this part of the state. It was love at first sight. “I made the decision to immerse myself in an environment where I am happiest and healthiest. So far for me, that has been this beautiful corner of southwestern Colorado.”
Lauderdale took temporary jobs with Telski (working in the child-care nursery) and as a volunteer with the Telluride Film Festival, and lived a kind of double life, splitting her time between nursing school and the Western Slope. Then, when she was ready to commit permanently to the area, the job at Mountain Medical opened up. “I feel extremely fortunate to now be part of the team providing healthcare to the people of Ridgway.”
Some days, she said, on her commute over Dallas Divide, “I feel as though my vehicle floats into town like a gigantic snowflake just as the day’s activities begin in Ridgway...I am satisfied with this beautiful dream. Please do not pinch me.”