The line between patient and friend often blurred for Dr. Margo Saunders during her 27-year career in Minidoka and Cassia counties of southeastern Idaho.
“No matter where I drive around here, I go past former patients’ homes where I’ve made house calls,” said Saunders, an internal medicine specialist and former chief of medicine at Minidoka Memorial Hospital in Rupert.
Despite her retirement starting October 1, she is still vital to her former patients. Driving by Jim Casey’s home near Rupert, she pulled into his driveway to say hi. Petite, radiant and high energy, she and Casey laughed as they talked about their decades-old friendship.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” said Casey, 75. “She made a new man out of me. She helped me through the toughest time of my life—when my wife died in a hunting accident. Since then, she’s kept me going in spite of all I have—COPD, arthritis pain, some lung, back, and hip issues.”
Casey said Saunders would be missed at the office.
“I’ll keep asking her for advice as a friend,” Casey said.
Saunders not only saw patients at their homes, but also in the hospital, the adjacent Minidoka Medical Plaza, and local nursing homes.
A 1990 graduate of the University of Washington School of Medicine, Saunders said she was drawn to internal medicine.
“It’s interesting, and every case is different,” she said. “You can have three patients with leukemia, and treatment for each one varies. Analyzing how a patient’s systems interact is like solving a puzzle with simultaneous moving parts.”
At times, she was the only physician in the emergency room.
“With a car accident, several victims would be coming in,” she said. “How do you pick who you think will survive? I asked God to direct my thoughts and to let me see what I need to see.”
The one thing Saunders had control over in her career was choosing where to practice.
“I wanted to live in a rural area,” she said. “I like a slower pace of life and having time to develop a personalized relationship with patients.”
She was recruited to Rupert during her residency at the Boise VA Medical Center.
Saunders said several recent life events compelled her to retire.
“A friend my age died from Covid in June,” she said. “My mom has dementia, so I want to spend more time with her. I celebrated my 68th birthday on September 20, and I’m looking forward to having more time to ride my horses while I’m fit and healthy.”
For 20 years, Saunders has been competing on the hunter/jumper circuit throughout the West. She also rides with a local drill team, the Wranglers.
After establishing her medical practice, Saunders developed her horse business.
“I’ve been horse crazy since I was 5,” she said. “I had no real opportunity to have horses until I was in my 50s ,and could afford to ride and take jumping lessons. I made up for lost time.”
Her clinic office was decorated with dozens of her blue, red, and yellow show ribbons. A friend had other ribbons sewn into a tapestry that decorated an exam room.
“My horses were a good outlet for me after work,” she said.
Her home is adjacent to a horse facility she bought from a local trainer and riding instructor who retired. She named the place Serenity Pastures and Stables and specializes in boarding horses “for rest, rehabilitation, retirement, and respite.”
Saunders said she is grateful many patients, like Jim Casey, will always be friends.
“She’s a joy to know,” Casey said. “She’s been a lifesaver for me.” ISI