A few weeks ago there was a column about the 2019 commencement exercises at UND with some feedback. Cavalier County had at least three young ladies who had received either their M.D. degrees or specialist degrees beyond that level in 2019. How did I miss that? To be honest, the medical school degrees were not given at the general commencement program but presented at a different ceremony.
By Rita Maisel
However, the shift from almost all male doctors to an increasing number of young ladies preparing for medical careers above and beyond nursing has had some changes over the years. While today’s nurses are still competent ladies generally expected to “handle anything” their starched white uniforms and perky hats (many quite different) telling patients and visitors where they had trained have given way to brighter colors, much less starch, more comfortable clothing and even new titles. The new groups are often known by their first names, and some may have had a few years working in other capacities, so they are rarely strangers. More on some of that later.
The first woman to receive a medical degree in America was not originally an American. Elizabeth Blackwell was born in 1821 in England. Her family immigrated to America when she was 11 years old. Her father had a good job heading a company, so their large family had tutors and were educated at home. When Elizabeth was 17 her father died and occupations open to educated women at that time were limited. Three of the older sisters opened a finishing school for young ladies to help support the family. The school was not a success. Then a friend who had been very ill suggested she would have recovered much faster if she had a woman for a doctor. Elizabeth began applying to medical schools who turned her down again and again. Medicine was an occupation better suited to men.
After many rejections she applied to a school in western New York along with a class of 150 men in 1847. The school officials had no experience with women in their classes, so allowed the men studying to be doctors to vote on her acceptance or rejection. The story goes that the men thought it was a joke and voted her in! She received her medical degree in 1849. It takes longer today. Unfortunately, American hospitals were not willing to hire the new doctor. An English citizen by birth, she went to Europe and found her specialty in a maternity hospital in Paris where she worked with a noted obstetrician of that time. In the process she lost the sight in one eye due to an infection contracted from a patient. The procedure for blindness was to remove the eye which meant she would never be able to do surgery. Dr. Blackwell returned to America, opened a consulting clinic, fought for abolition of slavery and wrote many books which went on to be read by mid-wives and obstetricians of the future. Her younger sister, Emily, followed in her footsteps and became America’s third woman to receive the medical doctor degree.
Skip ahead to local history. In 1895 a young lady living in Cavalier County wanted to become a doctor. She passed the teaching exams of that era and taught in rural summer schools in our area. During the winter she came to Langdon to study with Professor Thomas Sheehan at Langdon High School. She also apparently knew or worked with some of the local medical men. Most of the pioneer doctors had been trained in Ontario or at Chicago hospitals. Funded by her teaching salary, Della P. Jamieson went on to the University of Minnesota Medical School, and a note about her in the Langdon Courier-Democrat says she graduated at the head of her class. Coming back to Cavalier County she opened a clinic, we believe in her home at Osnabrock, roughly on the south end of present day Rainbow Road.
Following Dr. Della Jamieson, who seems to have gone by that name more often than her married name, many of the local communities had ladies who served as mid-wives under supervision of doctors with more training. In the town of Langdon, Mrs. Borusky began delivering babies from her home when her daughter was in high school. In 1928 she opened the Borusky Hospital which operated until Mercy Hospital was built in 1938. Some doctors delivered babies at their homes, and until the 1940s Mrs. Herres and Mrs. Lundquist welcomed many new babies at their homes. Once the new hospital was built, the “baby window” became a must-see-stop for hospital visitors from 1939 until delivery room services were discontinued.
One of the first young ladies I remember, doing possibly a part of her internship at the Langdon Clinic, was a very pregnant Dr. Heidi Bittner who still regularly oversees new babies from the Devils Lake Hospital. And then the Family Nurse Practitioner degree became a reality and over the years we might have met some of the following as nurses at the hospital or known them as the observed, shadowed, interned or did whatever was necessary to care for people in our community and elsewhere. The list is long, and my memory for married names is questionable so readers can fill in the blanks: Gwen Rohde Witzel, Miranda Mikkelson Baugh, Liz Larson Sillers, Danielle Skaar, Ana Buchweitz, Elise Dick, Ashton Fischer Hedger, Courtney Feil Short, Rachel Westphal Faleide, Amanda Moen, Chelsea Heppner, Justine Stremick, Erica Stein, Brooke Kubat, Megan Ratzlaff Overby….readers will remember more than I can. A name I wanted to include but was not sure what category she fit into was that of Katherine (Katie) Olson, always a special medically-bound young lady. Katherine is the daughter of Tom and Val Olson. She graduated from LHS in 2001 and went on to earn both MD and PhD Degrees. Later information was that she had been diagnosed with MS, a very debilitating illness which limited her medical work but possibly not her research. Not only is that an impressive list but another long list would include those whose degrees are in registered nursing.
In 2019 the medical school at UND issued medical doctor degrees to Elise Dick from Munich, daughter of Lyndon and Ellyn Dick, and Brooke Kubat, daughter of Terry and Vicki Kubat of Langdon. Elise will be doing her residency in family practice in Rapid City, S.D. Brooke will spend the next phase of her training at Iowa City, Iowa, specializing in neuropathy. Also listed at their ceremony was Dr. Christopher Waind of Grand Forks who will be doing residency at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks. A wild guess would be that he is a grandson of the late Warren and Millie Waind.
The third “newly graduated doctor” is Leah Gustafson, whose married name is Ista. Leah is the daughter of Jeff and Terri Gustafson of Langdon and has had a lot of milestones in her life – only a few of which made the clipping file. She graduated from Langdon Area High School in 2005 and went on to UND until transferring to NDSU for a degree in microbiology. As part of that work she and her future husband went on a mission trip to Zambia in the fall of 2008 where she worked with tropical diseases, and there is a memory of hearing about a safari side trip. At that point her name must no longer have appeared in Langdon papers. As a result, we don’t know the name of the medical school in Maryland she chose for the last ten years of her training. Another big event was her marriage in California a few years ago. With her newest degree (June 2019), she was offered a position in the emergency center at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks. Family and friends are delighted. Readers who arrive at that location by ambulance might find Leah as one of the first faces who will greet them.