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Angels Camp physician always knew he would be a doctor

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Posted: Friday, September 14, 2012 1:06 pm

Profiles in Health: Dr. Steven Mills

Stephen Mills never decided to be a doctor; there was never any question. He always knew, from as far back as he can remember, that he would become a physician when he grew up.

Mills was thrilled as a 12-year-old when he was allowed to dress in surgical clothing and scrubs so he could be admitted as an observer and stand at the operating table as his father, an anesthesiologist, attended a patient who underwent open heart surgery. Far from feeling nauseous when the scalpel made its first cut, young Mills was fascinated, eager to see at last the procedure that he had discussed so often with his dad, and to peer into the chest of a living person to see a beating heart.

Today, he is as enthusiastic about healing the human body as he was back then. As the presiding physician at the Angels Camp Family Medical Center clinic operated by the Mark Twain St. Joseph Hospital, Mills comes to work energized each day, hoping he’ll see an unusual case. He likes to be surprised and challenged.

Dr. Mills had a variety of fascinating experiences in his medical training. He attended medical school in Montserrat, in the West Indies, studying tropical medicine as he treated a Third World population where he encountered cases of the dreaded Dengue Fever and various parasites as well as a host of more normal maladies. He speaks of living there as an adventure where he stayed in a plantation house and contended with rats the size of small dogs that lived under the house. There were huge termites throughout the subfloor that would occasionally take to the air and become quite annoying. Then there also were the wasps that clustered on the undersides of banana leaves and left painful stings. Shortly after Mills left Montserrat in 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted and devastated the island.

Mills found a less challenging environment when completing his clinical study in Waterford, Ireland. There he found their socialized form of medicine to provide a very interesting contrast to the American system. He relates that Ireland’s physicians are more hands-on and involved with patients, and they have some of the best diagnosticians in the world. Here in the U.S., doctors are required to practice defensive medicine and can be found negligent if they do not order tests, even if they personally believe them to be unnecessary. In contrast, Irish physicians must question the patients closely, observe carefully and make informed decisions as to the problem and best form of treatment. Tests are discouraged.

Back in the United States, Mills did more clinical study in Bakersfield and then completed his residency in Rochester, N.Y.’s Strong Memorial Hospital. He had a private family practice in Wheeling, W. Va., for 13 years before coming to Angels Camp over a year ago. Mills enjoyed having his own practice but believes that it is “impractical to have one’s own practice in today’s medical climate in the U.S. because insurance costs and paperwork have become burdensome.”

He is very happy to be part of the Mark Twain St. Joseph Hospital team, and is thrilled to be here in the Sierra foothills. An avid fisherman who also loves to kayak, hike and ski, he revels in the miles of hiking trails, the rivers and lakes and matchless beauty of the area.

Mills regards Calaveras County as an area of wide economic diversity and points out that many of the poorer patients he sees often suffer from health maintenance issues that better health education could combat, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. He is pleased that MTSJH offers periodic health fairs like the one coming up Saturday, Oct. 6, at the hospital because they offer education, health counseling, blood and blood pressure tests and other preventative measures free or at very low cost to the public.

When questioned about everyday health issues that he considers important, Mills mentioned diet and immunizations. He points out that people who are struggling financially often find maintaining a healthful diet to be quite challenging. While everyone knows that one’s diet should contain several servings of fruits and vegetables each day, these are perishable items that require almost daily trips to the grocery store. People who have no cars or are too infirm to drive tend to rely on food choices that are less satisfactory.

As for some parents’ reluctance to immunize their children, Mills agreed that parents have the right to decide for themselves but urges that they research the diseases that are prevented by the vaccinations before they reject them. Most people nowadays don’t really know what chicken pox is and how a child suffers with the fever and rash, to say nothing of the resulting scarring. And polio? No one sees that anymore, nor do they know about the worry and fear that gripped the nation during polio outbreaks when anyone, especially children, could be struck down, and no one knew how one contracted the disease. Lifelong paralysis and even death from polio were commonplace just decades ago. Some people now tend to believe in “herd immunity” where, because they assume everyone else is vaccinated, their child will be safe. That is not the case. The more who are not immunized, the more likely these diseases will return.

Linda Field is an Enterprise community correspondent. Contact Linda at

© 2015 Calaveras Enterprise. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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