Dr Ellen Hodges grew up in Tyler, Minnesota, population 1,200, a town known for it’s agricultural ties and strong Bavarian influence. She is the fifth of seven children.
Ellen’s father was a music and science teacher. Consequently, she developed a great appreciation for science, earning her undergraduate degree in chemistry with honors at the College of Saint Benedict in 1996.
She received a remarkable award from her alma mater in 2006 called the Decade Award, honoring her outstanding personal, professional and volunteer accomplishments. She attended the University of Minnesota medical school in Duluth and went on to complete her residency at Providence Medical Center in 2003. She didn’t stop there. She went on to receive highly specialized training to provide emergency surgical obstetrical procedures and brought those skills to Bethel’s YK Delta Regional hospital.
Health careers run in the family. Ellen’s older brother Gerald is currently the administrator at the Yukon Kuskokwim Elder’s Home. Her sister Betty is also a nurse practitioner.
When learning more about Ellen’s specialty and her demanding schedule, I asked Michelle DeWitt, Ellen’s partner of 11 years, how someone in such a demanding position ever really has any free time. Her immediate response was, “it get’s rough. To the point where even on the most beautiful summer days, we can’t even go on a boat ride in the event work calls her in.” Michelle credits the addition of Dr. David Compton OB-GYN as instrumental in helping free up the on-call demand of both Dr. Hodges and Dr. Eggimann. “It saved our relationship. I don’t envy individuals who have to work on-call. With a job like Ellen’s you are almost always on-call.”
Not only is she an on-call emergency OB physician, she is a family medicine doctor and to top that off, she is YKHC’s Chief of Staff for all of the hospital’s medical providers. This means in addition to providing leadership by way of clinical background and expertise (with YKHC’s electronic medical records system RAVEN for example) but she is also in charge of conducting performance evaluations, maintaining and monitoring licensures and certifications, and managing a demanding schedule that includes clinical shifts in multiple areas of the hospital.
When Ellen isn’t busy as the chief of staff in her administrative capacity, she definitely makes up for it when her on-call schedule pulls her into work to perform emergency c-sections, work the emergency room, late nights, early mornings, holidays and countless weekends. Dr. Bill Eggimann, whose wife, Dr. Jane McClure, held the Chief of Staff position for nearly 10 years, acknowledges it is very demanding. “Dr. Hodges is fantastic. We are so lucky to have her. I will never forget the first night she stepped foot in the ER and said, ‘I’m gonna be your resident.’ And by the morning I wanted her forever. The YK region is so fortunate that someone of her caliber, clinical expertise, technical savvy, and appreciation for the culture here.”
When asked about her job, Dr. Hodges, without hesitation, says “I have the best job in the world.”
In the less than twenty minutes I had to speak with Dr. Hodges in person, she was called to post-emergency obstetrical surgery where she delivered a baby boy. There was a line of people waiting to speak with her.
Finally, when Dr. Hodges was asked about what individuals can do to help elevate their personal health status, she said, “besides the obvious, such as stop using tobacco, getting exercise, … embrace the idea of getting involved in the community by providing support for one another, helping in providing a support system towards a common goal in being part of the social safety net to prevent harm, abuse, neglect, and preventing unfortunate events from happening such as suicide. Public health fascinates me, and honestly my role in terms of what I can provide with my clinical background is only 10 percent of the whole health picture. I think about it all the time. We as doctors may have one visit to help change the course of individual health outcomes, but ultimately there are additional driving factors that reside with the individual, their genetic make-up, and what social norms are in place that influence that. That makes up the other 90 percent.”
She is described by many as extremely enthusiastic, passionate about saving lives and being adamant about getting YKHC’s electronic medical record system built correctly, with the end goal being lives saved.
“Ultimately, when we sat down and talked about EMR a long time ago, it grew out of a small work group and a patient who experienced a bad health outcome from the village. Our new RAVEN system saves lives. I strongly believe this. I know the build has been stressful and taxing for all involved, but now we have an absolutely invaluable product that will prevent a bad outcome like that from happening again, and it’s an invaluable investment.”
Fun Facts about Dr. Ellen Hodges
- 1991 Junior Miss Aebleskiver Queen of Tyler, MN, which involved her father driving her to every county and state fair parade the summer after her high school gradation. She toured many a county fair and parade in Minnesota in a traditional Danish frock amidst high summer temperatures. Ellen remarked, “It helped pay for my first year of college.” An Aebleskiver is a traditional Danish pastry and places the small agricultural town of Tyler, MN on the map for it’s appreciation of Danish and Bavarian culture.
- Credits K. Jane McClure for returning to Bethel after her residency. “She is a leader, visionary and helped set the stage in mentoring me right out of residency. She had your back, no matter what.”
- During her time in undergraduate school, while working in St. Benedict’s brand new science center and chemistry, a haz mat response team was called in because Ellen accidentally tipped over a bottle of sodium hydro chloride. Campus legends and many-a-chem lab partner keep this story alive.