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Childhood in Ethiopia Inspired Lifetime of Medical Service

As a young boy growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with his parents who worked for the government there, Erling Oksenholt, DO, discovered the power of medicine to change lives.

“I went to school with missionary kids whose parents were doctors, so from a young age I would observe and assist at medical clinics for the poor,” said Dr. Oksenholt. “I knew at age 6 that I would be a doctor. When you see a lot of suffering like we did there, you want to be helpful, to make life better for people.”

In 1973, as the youngest doctor in Oregon at the time, he built his private family medicine practice in Lincoln City and has been there ever since. Later, he began working for Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital when the local health district purchased his facility, now called Samaritan Lincoln City Medical Center.

Through the years, he served as medical director for the Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital Emergency Department and the EMS system in Lincoln County, as well as medical director and partner in three coastal medical clinics. In Ethiopia, a program he started has grown into a teaching hospital, multiple clinics, an orphanage and a high school.

He achieved all this while earning board certifications and board eligibility in six specialties — family medicine, geriatrics, emergency medicine, sports medicine, occupational medicine and EMS medicine.

“I like the ability to have a broad perspective and then bring parties together to work as a team in a better fashion,” he said. “What I really enjoy the most is the variety.”

Last year, he was named Oregon’s EMS Medical Director of the Year for his service training paramedics and developing new protocols.

Working with coastal emergency responders in ocean rescues, he has become a leading expert on treating hypothermia. His efficient methods, which have a greater than 95% survival rate, have saved scores of near-drowning victims and he has been sought as an expert to consult and train on his method with the U.S.

Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and other organizations.

For 30 years, he has led mission trips to Africa, South America and Asia, taking hundreds of medical students and other clinicians with him to some of the world’s poorest locations.

“I feel it’s important for students to get this kind of cultural experience,” he said. “It’s training they couldn’t get anywhere else. We’ve worked in some really desolate places and they

see medical problems they’d never see in the U.S.”

One student who served alongside Dr. Oksenholt on a trip to Thailand is now one of two medical doctors on the White House medical team. While he enjoyed a behind-the- scenes tour of the White House clinic, what most impressed Dr. Oksenholt was his former student.

“To see those you’ve helped train grow up and succeed, to make an impact on the world, it’s just wonderful, very inspiring,” he said.

Find a Health Care Provider Opportunity with Samaritan

Samaritan Health Services has five hospitals and more than 80 primary and specialty care clinics throughout the mid-Willamette Valley and central Oregon Coast, providing a wide variety of physician employment opportunities.