As an eighth grader, Randall Waldner shadowed a local physician, Dr. Matt Owens ‘93, and that reinforced his aspirations. Owens was conspicuously committed to rural health care and to Redfield, and Waldner could see through his interactions with Owens that his ambitious dream of becoming a doctor and practicing medicine in the small community where he’d grown up was possible.
Repeatedly, through the next 15 years of his life, Waldner returned to spend time with Owens. While he was an undergraduate at South Dakota State University, Waldner sought experience and knowledge from Owens. As a medical student at the University of South Dakota, he came home to learn more from Owens. And finally, while serving his residency in family medicine at Texas A&M University, he returned to Redfield and worked a month alongside Owen.
Last September, his residency completed, Dr. Randall Waldner came home to Redfield to formally join three other physicians practicing at the local clinic and the community-owned hospital. Among those physicians was Dr. Matt Owens.
Owens beams when he remembers a young Waldner looking for advice and reassurance. “I started working with Randall when he was very young,” said Owens. “But this journey of his reminds me that for small towns to solve their health care needs they need to grow their own.”
Interestingly, of the four physicians now practicing at the community’s hospital, two of them – Dr. Waldner and Dr. Kristine Wren ‘95 – are Redfield natives.
While in medical school Waldner committed to an incentive program led by his hometown and his hometown’s hospital that provided significant financial assistance if he committed to returning to Redfield. That commitment paid Waldner’s tuition and other costs during medical school. “When I returned to practice in Redfield in September 2020,” Waldner explained, “I was debt free.”
Practicing as a family physician in the small community where he grew up offers inherent difficulties and rewards, said Waldner. “One big advantage is that I already know about the families I care for. I know family histories and I know some of a family’s medical histories,” he explained.
“There are also some growing pains,” he added. “People here have known me since I was a little boy, and now that I’m serving as a physician to them, it feels awkward for some people.”
The same opportunities that compelled him to pursue a practice in family medicine also present challenges. Redfield’s hospital is a 25-bed critical access facility, offering an emergency room, hospital and clinical care, and community outreach to nursing homes and family homes. All this is provided by Waldner, three other physicians and several mid-level health providers. “It takes lots of time, but that’s what we are happy to offer to our patients and fellow residents. We listen to our patients, and we advocate for them,” Waldner said.
Waldner refers to his residency at a major university hospital when contrasting the medical environment he now works in. “I had a nephrologist, an orthopedic surgeon and a cardiologist right down the hall during my residency training in family medicine. Now I must be a bit of all things, and with that there are the gratifications of living and practicing in a rural community. Those are the intangibles that can’t be taught in medical school. My residency colleagues can’t believe what I am doing and the expansive medical practice I am engaged in. They know that I prefer simpler, quiet living, and that’s what we get here.”
Karen Sjurseth is the CEO of Redfield’s Community Memorial Hospital (CMH). She shares her gratefulness and excitement at Dr. Waldner’s decision to come home to practice medicine. “This is a huge benefit to our community and our hospital,” exclaimed Sjurseth. “The community has been very positive regarding Dr. Waldner joining CMH and Redfield Clinic. The community has known him for a long time, and I think that increases the comfortability factor for patients. He is a very caring and outgoing person, and he is willing to take on new roles to benefit our community.”
One of Waldner’s first new roles is serving on the community hospital’s board of directors. It is a responsibility Waldner enjoys. “This is a positive opportunity. I feel like I’m already contributing as well as learning more about Redfield,” Waldner said.
Another enjoyable aspect of returning home is re-connecting with those high school classmates who have remained in Redfield. “There aren’t many of us,” noted Waldner, “but we want to contribute to the community. We want to help our community grow. The dynamic of Redfield is changing. Much of the community’s commercial aspect has left or is no longer open. We want to reverse that.” And so, this next generation of Redfield leadership -Waldner among them- has resolved to encourage more people to move to Redfield. “If we can get 500 good people to move here, that would be a big success for us,” he suggested.
Last year, Waldner wed his long-time girlfriend, Stephanie Binger, whose family farms near Tulare, not far from Redfield. So, each has family in or near Redfield, Stephanie has landed a full-time job, and the couple is now building a home on a rural acreage near Redfield. “We’re settling in,” said Waldner. “And we’re not planning to go anywhere.”