Godspeed Dr. Spohr

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Courtesy photo Terry Spohr shows off a brown trout he caught during a fishing trip in Bend, Ore. Spohr, a local physician’s assistant will now have more time for fishing after retiring last week. Spohr served the residents of North Idaho for the last 40 years.

OSBURN — For almost 40 years Terry Spohr has been serving the people of Shoshone and Benewah counties as one of the most dependable and relatable physicians that either area had ever had.

Last week Spohr officially retired after working the last five years at Benewah Community Hospital in St. Maries, and he is leaving more than just a hole in the hospital’s personnel.

He is also taking with him a wealth of knowledge spanning more than half a century.

Spohr’s career in medicine began when he became a medic in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.

“I grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and I spent a lot of time working in my Dad’s store. One day a guy came in who had been a medic in the Korean War and he told me it was a pretty good gig,” Spohr said. “He told me I should try that if I didn’t know what I should do. So, after high school I spent four years in the Navy as a medic and I specialized in orthopedics. The last year of my service I was in Vietnam, both in country in Da Nang and then on a hospital ship for nine months.”

Upon discharge, Spohr began attending college at the University of New Mexico while also working at a local hospital in the trauma unit.

In 1975 Spohr applied for medical school, which was particularly difficult during that time due to the amount of people that were applying.

“I was already 30 at the time, so I applied to PA (physician’s assistant) school,” Spohr said. “There was already three to four thousand who had applied to Baylor College of Medicine, but only 30 of us got in.”

After graduation in 1978, Spohr spent a year in Houston, Texas, working as clinician in a Houston jail.

It was during that time that Spohr began applying for jobs in Idaho.

“I had been to Idaho several times, mostly southern Idaho, and maybe as far as Sun Valley, but never up here,” Spohr said. “I just loved it here so I came to Idaho.”

At that time PA’s were relatively new, so finding a job as a PA in Idaho wasn’t easy, but it just so happened that another local legend in the medical field knew what they were and hired Spohr on.

“Dr. Fred Haller knew what PA’s were from his time at Tulane and he hired me,” Spohr said. “I started doing family medicine here on Feb. 10, 1979.”

Over the last 38 years Spohr has been involved in just about every kind of medicine under the sun.

“I did the full scope of family medicine during my time, and I even delivered babies for the same lady twice, two years in row, on a Tuesday night when I was on call in the emergency room,” Spohr recalled with a smile. “I got to do everything, my career has just been terrific.”

Spohr split his time between the communities of the Silver Valley for several years, including both East and West Shoshone Hospital Districts, but in the mid-’90s Spohr, Haller, and some other local professionals in the medical field came up with a home run of idea.

“About 20 years ago Dr. Haller, myself, Al Kohal, and few other doctors built Mountain Health in Kellogg,” Spohr said. “We had a lot of problems in the beginning, a lot of economic difficulty, but we made it through it. And we have been able to add an addition to it, which has allowed the physical therapy department to grow.”

Mountain Health is still open today, now under the Heritage Health mantle.

About five years ago, Spohr sought some new surroundings and ended up in St. Maries at Benewah Community Hospital.

“It’s a $27 million hospital in a great community,” Spohr said. “I got to do everything that I was doing before and was up on the third floor of a beautiful facility. I got to be there for five years, and it all ended last Wednesday.”

Spohr has been in the medical field in North Idaho for some time and has gotten to watch the evolution of medicine in the area, both the good and the not-as-good.

“I think there are more specialists today, which isn’t a bad thing, but it definitely isn’t the same as what was going on even 20 years ago,” Spohr said. “Before, when not every hospital had things like CT scans, MRIs, or other things that are fairly common now, we had to know a little bit of everything and there was some guesswork because we couldn’t just get imaging done that told us what the problem was.”

Specifically in the Silver Valley, though, Spohr was especially candid.

“I think things are moving with the times in Shoshone County,” Spohr said. “When East Shoshone closed it was a good thing because there wasn’t the patient base to require two hospitals. We didn’t need two hospitals like we don’t need three school districts, it’s the same principle. But we have that beautiful newer building in Kellogg and they are doing some good things.”

In retirement Spohr will enjoy his favorite pastime of fishing, particularly fly fishing, but he will always be thankful for the career that he had.

“At the end of my life I don’t want to have any regrets. If I ever made a mistake I made sure that I took responsibility for it,” Spohr said. “I will always be thankful for my career. The latitude I had to help my patients made it easy for me to enjoy working.”

Spohr took care of thousands of Silver Valley residents, including multiple generations of families and he will be missed by every community he served in.

As a former patient of Spohr’s, I think I can safely say thank you from the entire community, for the service you gave us over the years.

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