“I never dreamed I'd get to learn the things my job has taught me. I'm really blessed to be involved in public health and to work with inspiring, passionate people who motivate me to be better.”
“PUBLIC HEALTH AND RURAL MEDICINE LEADER”
Eleanor (Sue) Cantrell grew up in a small town in Tennessee dreaming of becoming a doctor from the age of five when a serious illness hospitalized her for days. "I wanted to be a doctor, but I had no idea how to go about it. In high school, a wonderful couple who were neighbors and pharmacists mentored me and convinced me that I could go to college and become a pharmacist. And that's how I started."
Going on to complete college, she worked two years as a pharmacist, then took–and passed–the entrance exam for medical school, graduating with honors and marking the start of a career in internal medicine and public health full of outreach and leadership which has brought great praise from the communities and people she serves in rural Virginia.
As the District Director of the Lenowisco Health District, a mountainous rural region of Appalachia, Cantrell has led a series of public health initiatives that have increased access to basic health care, and used telemedicine technologies to support diagnostic and screening programs to enhance the region's health care.
Cantrell began her career with a residency in Internal Medicine at Creighton University, in Omaha, followed by an appointment as staff physician in occupational health services at St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha. She came to the Lenowisco Health District as director in 1991 and has since built a reputation for serving the underserved and uninsured populations that are among the neediest in the state.
"In a rural area like ours with coal mining, we have lots of chronic pulmonary illness and other problems like diabetes and hypertension. The biggest problem though is having access to good medicine for lots of people here. Telemedicine and mobile labs bring diagnostic services to underserved people who don't get the care they otherwise need," she said.
Nominated as a Local Legend by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA-9), Cantrell also has led the fight for improved air and water quality for Lenowisco, and for better emergency preparedness planning. She has been the primary medical contact and coordinator of the Remote Area Medical Clinic, providing dental and medical care to the uninsured and which, on one weekend in 2002, served more than 4000 patients.
Besides her work in telemedicine and mobile health labs, she developed the original software for a pharmacy access program that assists eligible patients in acquiring prescription medications at no or reduced cost, and she developed a model plan for small community wastewater disposal.
She often has been cited for the creativity and perseverance she brings to the challenges of public health. Wrote a colleague recently, "Not only are her heart and soul in her work, Sue brings ingenuity to the problems that confront rural and underserved populations."
Director of Pharmacy Services, St. Mary's Hospital, Norton, VA
Staff Physician, Occupational Health Services, St. Joseph Hospital, Omaha, NE
Medical Director of Occupational Health Services, AMI St. Joseph Hospital, Omaha
District Director, Lenowisco Health District, Virginia Department of Health
Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, VA