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A unique way to give back

mike salter and son ryan
Mike Salter, right, poses with his son, Ryan, in front of an anesthesia machine at the practice Ryan co-owns in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mike, now semi-retired, also works there.

Tearing knee cartilage in high school might have been a bump in Mike Salter’s basketball days, but it was a launching pad to a great career.

The Lake Preston High School junior ended up in McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls for a knee operation in 1970. He left without some cartilage but with an idea of how he would spend his adult years. The role of a nurse anesthetist—putting patients to sleep so doctors could perform procedures that otherwise would cause intolerable pain or be technically unfeasible—intrigued him.

Salter enrolled at State in 1971 as a pre-med major and later spent another day at McKennan as he explored health occupation careers.

The time he spent shadowing nurse anesthetists, who had been medics in Vietnam, convinced him to change his major to nursing. When he was admitted into the nursing program, there were 45 females and five males in his class.

While some faculty considered the men to be taking slots that a female could use to “have a career,” others, notably Barbara Dougherty and Ruby Mason, were “very supportive of men being in nursing,” Salter said.

And as for the Jackrabbit teammates of this guy, who played one year of junior varsity basketball and was a relief pitcher for three years under Coach Erv Heuther? “Nursing wasn’t designed for athletics. I would have three-hour labs and have to miss practice or come late. My teammates asked me what kind of class I was taking that had three-hour afternoon labs.

“When I told them I had switched majors to nursing, they chuckled said ‘What? Why would you go into nursing?’”

His friends’ incredulous response didn’t deter Salter. “I was on a mission.”

After graduating with a baccalaureate degree in nursing degree in 1975, he spent a year as a surgical nurse at McKennan and then took the 24-month baccalaureate nurse anesthetist program through the University of South Dakota at McKennan. Following graduation in 1978, he spent a couple of years in Texas and then 30 years in solo and partnership practice in Washington and Pella, Iowa.

In 2008, Salter and wife Carol, a nurse, moved to Arizona, where he continued to practice. Now semi-retired and living in Scottsdale, he continues to practice two to three days a week.

“My nursing career has been so good to me. It was such a rewarding career choice,” Salter said. It was also a choice of one of his sons. Ryan Salter now is a joint owner in a practice in Scottsdale. Mike Salter does contract work with that partnership.

The elder Salter also has established another long-term relationship with his alma mater. Through a $1,000 annual donation that Salter will endow through a distribution from his will, he created a student emergency fund the college will oversee. “I remember what it was like being a student. You’re low on meal money, expenses come up that you weren’t prepared for,” he said.

The college already put the 2018 donation to good use. Nursing faculty learned that a student had spent many months moving from sofa to sofa with her peers and was struggling to afford food.  The emergency fund was tapped into so the student could buy groceries and pay her share of the rent for an apartment she was able to share with a peer.

The even better news? She graduated in August and has passed her NCLEX.