Mary Halloran was serving in the Peace Corps in Niger when she decided she wanted to be a primary care doctor back home in the Adirondacks.
Halloran, now 52, grew up in Minerva, a town of 800 in the southwestern corner of Essex County. She’s the oldest of six children, raised by a lawyer and a teacher. A good student but possessed of no particular career calling, she earned a degree in philosophy from Hamilton College. Then came Niger.
“It made me really know how vulnerable people were, people with nothing, but who found joy every day,” Halloran said.
The Zarma tribe gave her far more than she felt she could ever give them in the three years she spent in Niger. She left with the conviction that the way to really help the human condition is to do it in your own community.
After returning to the U.S., Halloran moved to Arizona, where she worked with at-risk children and one by one took the classes she needed to take the admissions tests for med school. She earned a master’s degree in public health and practiced on the Hopi reservation, where she worked with an inspiring doctor. She met her future husband, Steve, and had her first child.
All the while, becoming a doctor was still in the back of her mind, though it seemed unreachable. She was on the verge of going to nursing school when Steve said to her, “If becoming a doctor is what you want to do, let’s do it.”
Halloran started school at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and then took a year off when her third child was born. She graduated in 2009. Steve’s mother lived with the family and took care of the children while Steve ran a landscaping business and Halloran went to school and then completed her residency in Bangor, Maine. Her goal all along was to practice family medicine back home in the Adirondacks, but she had student loans to consider. By the end of her medical education, she was $300,000 in debt.
The answer to how she could both practice family medicine in the Adirondacks and pay her loans came from the 24-bed Elizabethtown Community Hospital, managed by the University of Vermont, in 2012. The hospital hired a grant writer and secured a grant through Doctors Across NY, a physician loan repayment program managed by the Department of Health. It provided Halloran with $150,000 over five years of service.
She sees patients in both E-town and Willsboro, and works on-call shifts at the hospital several times a month. She said it helps her relationships with patients when she tells them she’s from the Adirondacks.
“I know what they care about and we can trade stories. They don’t worry I think I’m better than them,” Halloran said.
The job has given her work and a lifestyle she loves. She and Steve and their sons live in Westport. They raise chickens, ski and hike, and at the end of the day, look out over a gorgeous view of the mountains from their kitchen. They’re a short drive from where Mary’s parents still live in the Minerva house where she grew up.
“It was never about money for me. This is rewarding, and I think more so because here, there aren’t a lot of doctors.
“I feel needed.”