Mary Loken Veiseth, MD, a 1986 graduate from the University of Minnesota Medical School, grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Zumbrota, Minnesota. She remembers there being two family physicians in town at the time and one hospital. 

“They knew everything,” Dr. Loken said. “The physician my family went to was really good. He would pick up things other people missed.” 

Dr. Loken had a strong interest in science from a young age and these physicians inspired her to consider medicine. She wasn’t necessarily thinking of being a physician though, and she also was very interested in farming. 

“Not exactly two things that go right next to each other,” she said. 

Dr. Loken recalls when she was about 12 years old and her younger sister cut her neck on a barbed-wire fence.

“It just barely bled, and at the time, I was a little squeamish from blood,” Dr. Loken said. “I looked at the scrape, put my hands on my hips and thought to myself, ‘If you’re going to go into medicine, you have to be able to look at blood.’ So, I looked at it and told myself it was no big deal.” 

Although the idea of a career in medicine clearly had been planted, Dr. Loken was still contemplating different options. After high school she attended Augsburg University and graduated in 1970 with a major in health and minor in physical education. 

She went on to work in genetics at the Mayo Clinic for a number of years. In this role, her appetite for medicine continued to grow, and she was reminded of previous words of encouragement.

“The day I graduated college, my hometown family physician came over to me and said ‘Why don’t you go to medical school?’ I shook it off at the time, but it never left my mind. I wanted to be like him,” Dr. Loken said.

And yet, taking over her family farm remained an interest as well. One day Dr. Loken had a conversation with her father about it, and suddenly a plan came together. 

“My dad told me I better go to medical school because if I take over the farm, I’ll never get out of debt. So, I turned to him and said, ‘I’ll go to medical school and then I’ll buy the farm.’”

Dr. Loken enrolled at the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1982. During this time, she participated in the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP) — an experience that she highly values. 

“I loved my time in RPAP,” Dr. Loken said. “Within the first couple days of arriving at Granite Falls, one of the physicians in the clinic said I will be functioning as a resident by the end of this. I thought there was no way.” 

Halfway through her eighth month of being there she realized she was first call in the emergency department. 

“By the time I got to the emergency department, I realized neither of the physicians were there yet. I was the first one,” Dr. Loken said. “I got to see and do a lot more hands-on work than I probably would have done in the Cities just because of the numbers. It was often just the surgeon, the doctor and myself,” she said. 

A few years after Dr. Loken became a family medicine physician at Apple Valley Medical Clinic, she followed through on her plan to buy the farm. When she ended up marrying the boy next door — literally, her husband grew up on the farm next to hers in Zumbrota — and he also bought his family farm, her ties to that rural community only expanded. 

After 24 years as a family medicine physician at Apple Valley Medical Clinic, Dr. Loken retired in 2013, but she still stays committed to rural health issues today. She understands first hand what health sacrifices people in rural communities make, due to lack of financial resources or lack of nearby facilities. She contributes to scholarships at the University of Minnesota Medical School to help students from modest backgrounds like hers succeed.