“Every Day Is a Surprise!” MEDEX Graduate Marks 50th Anniversary of Working in Primary Care

By:   June 15, 2021

Sue Terran celebrates her fifty years of service as a nurse, PA and committed healthcare provider.

This year, MEDEX graduate Sue Terran (MEDEX Seattle Class 27) celebrated fifty years of working in primary care as a nurse and physician assistant. “People ask me every day when I’m going to retire – and I don’t know!” she laughs.

Born in southern California, Terran moved to Oregon intending to go to school, but life had other plans. She started delivering babies in 1971.

“Women would just show up at my house pregnant and in labor because they heard that I delivered babies,” says Terran. “A doctor [Dr. Jim Shames] moved to the area, and he was willing to go with me to help with emergencies or to start IVs. He said he would stay for the summer and help me out. He never left.”

In 1973, Terran and Shames founded the Takilma People’s Clinic in Oregon’s Illinois Valley and volunteers helped to remodel an old farmhouse into a birthing room. Over a period of fifteen years, they delivered more than 7,000 babies both in clinic and at patients’ homes.

Terran arriving in the “Birthmobile,” an ambulance converted into a mobile clinic in support of the local community.

“We bought an old ambulance and called it our Birthmobile,” says Terran.

Though Terran loved her work, life in a rural community was not without its challenges. She moved the clinic to the town of Cave Junction, Oregon after the Longwood Fire ravaged the Illinois Valley in 1987.

“While we were in the woods fighting for our homes, hundreds of people went to the clinic and evacuated it to the point of taking doors off. It really looked like it was going to burn. All these wonderful volunteers totally emptied the place.”

After the fire retreated, Terran turned a Cave Junction residence into a clinic and established the Siskiyou Community Health Center.

“When we moved to Cave Junction, there was no other medical care for 45 miles. It became clear that the town badly needed a full-time family medicine clinic.” Over time, the clinic became a Federal Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and expanded to two major clinics with 220 employees.

“The most amazing thing for me is to see us grow into what we have now,” she says.

In addition to her work at the clinic, Terran launched a local home visit program called Project Babycheck. “25 years ago, when I was delivering babies, I realized that families in rural communities don’t have any access to [medical] services,” she says. Now a countywide program, Project Babycheck employs trained home visitors to ensure that children have access to health insurance and medical providers from birth to age five. “We have about 250 kids at any time,” says Terran.

Terran was inspired to pursue a career as a physician assistant after training MEDEX students at her clinic. “Our little clinic did rotations for family medicine for MEDEX students, and it hit me one day: I could do this!” Encouraged to apply by Ruth Ballweg, PA (MEDEX Seattle Class 11), who was then the Section Chief and Program Director of the MEDEX Program, Terran graduated from MEDEX in 1995 at the top of her class with a specialty in maternal health. She found that her values with respect to providing long-term medical service to a rural community were reflected in MEDEX Northwest’s dedication to rural healthcare in the Pacific Northwest.

Today, Terran stays busy as ever at the Siskiyou Community Health Center seeing geriatric patients in addition to pregnant women and babies. The best part of her work? “The connection to community and living in the same place,” she says. “Right now, I’m doing prenatal care on the grandchildren of some of the babies I’ve delivered. I’ve known them all for fifty years and that’s what makes me stay.”


~ Story written by Kat Black, MEDEX Northwest Admissions

James Wehmeyer is Communications Director of MEDEX Northwest in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at medexcom@uw.edu.