Newton Clinic’s newest doctor didn’t grow up in Iowa, but everyone assumes she did.
“I was raised in Wisconsin, in a little town called Waterloo,” said Dr. Stephanie Bantell. “It was so small that even people in Wisconsin hadn’t heard of it. I’d say ‘Waterloo’ and they’d say, ‘Iowa’?”
The physician, who provides family practice and OB services, may have lived in a community of only 3,000, but she found plenty to keep herself busy. She thrived academically, knowing by the third grade that she had an affinity for science and knowing by age 16 that she wanted to be a doctor.
“However,” she said with a mischievous grin, “being a doctor was my back-up career, in case being a singing and dancing actress didn’t work out.”
She may be joking, but her love of the arts was absolutely serious. She danced from a young age, studying ballet, jazz and tap, performed in show choir and drama club, and won the female lead role in “Guys and Dolls” as a teenager. If all that didn’t keep her busy enough, she was also in cheerleading, cross-country and swimming, and did a mentorship with the local physician during her senior year of high school.
For someone who is clearly a renaissance woman, the pursuit of medicine was a great fit.
“I knew it would be challenging and that I wouldn’t get bored,” she said.
Dr. Bantell’s hard work in the classroom paid off when the time came to apply for college. She received a full-ride scholarship at the University of New Orleans, where she majored in biomedical science and graduated only months before Hurricane Katrina struck.
“My husband Adam, who was my boyfriend at the time, attended Tulane University and graduated when I did,” Dr. Bantell said. “It was hard to watch TV and see the flooding and damage, knowing it all as well as we did.”
If the jump from small-town Wisconsin to the Big Easy seemed impressive, Dr. Bantell’s next move was even more dramatic. Following a month of backpacking in Europe, she started at Ross University School of Medicine in the Caribbean.
“People hear that and think, ooh, tropical beaches and beauty,” she said. “But this was a small, inhospitable island in the West Indies, genuinely a third-world setting. We called it The Rock. You would take a commercial airline to get from the U.S. to Puerto Rico, and then it was a propeller plane the rest of the way.”
The education was as intense as the setting. “There were about 1,500 students there at a time,” Dr. Bantell said. “What is normally a two-year curriculum would get condensed into only 16 months. And all our instructors were PhDs, so the material was incredibly hard and detailed.”
In the latter portion of medical school, Dr. Bantell was back in the U.S., doing clinical rotations in places like New York and Chicago. For a time, she was torn between surgery and family practice. “As a teenager, I thought I would be a pediatric heart surgeon. But as much as I enjoyed the OR setting, I didn’t like the limited patient interaction. I wanted to be able to develop that relationship with the people in my care.”
Residency – the several-year training that happens after receiving a medical degree but before practicing independently – finally brought Dr. Bantell back to familiar territory when she was accepted into the Mercy Health System Family Medicine Residency Program in Janesville, Wis., less than an hour away from where she grew up.
“I liked the program not just because it was close to family,” she said, “but also because it was an unopposed residency, meaning that the family practice doctors weren’t having to compete with surgical residents or OB residents for patients. There weren’t territorial battles. I could do as much as I wanted, learn in all the areas I wanted.”
As the final year of residency approached, Dr. Bantell had some big life changes looming. Not only were she and Adam expecting their first child but they had to decide where they would be raising him.
“As I was starting the job hunt, I got e-mails from a lot of recruiters,” Dr. Bantell said. “One of them mentioned an opportunity in Newton, Iowa. On paper alone, it seemed perfect, independently owned but with a large number of providers, in a town that was just the right size, and a place where I could practice OB in addition to family medicine.”
When she and Adam visited Newton in late fall 2012, the good impressions continued to add up. As they toured through Skiff Medical Center, Dr. Bantell admired a set of ducky-themed baby bibs in the window of the gift shop. At that point, she was eight months pregnant with their son, Dante (a name she had selected, just like her career, by the age of 16) and planning a nursery decorated in duckies. She didn’t even know that anyone noticed her pointing out the items to Adam, yet during a recruiting dinner later that night, she was presented with a gift bag containing the bibs, along with Skiff apparel for her, her husband and their unborn baby.
“That attention to detail was amazing,” she said. “And having so many of the Newton Clinic doctors attend the meals held for us made me feel truly wanted for the practice. I specifically remember getting a big hug from Dr. Min Pak. Newton was just meant to be.”
Fast-forward to the present, and Dr. Bantell now calls Newton home. She and Adam have purchased a house on the outskirts of town, where they are raising Dante, a little adventurer who, not even nine months old yet, is already crawling and pulling up on furniture. Adam, who studied engineering and most recently worked as a college lab instructor, is loving his new role as stay-at-home dad. Meanwhile, at the clinic, Dr. Bantell’s practice is already flourishing.
“I love the familial feeling here,” she said. “I know that I can call my fellow doctors at any time to ask questions. The nurses are very attentive. Overall, it’s exactly what I was looking for.”
The established providers at the clinic have been more than happy to welcome Dr. Bantell on board.
“It’s great to have her here,” said Dr. Steve Hill. “She has good clinical skills, is conscientious and a good listener.”
“Dr. Bantell brings great energy, enthusiasm and humor to Newton Clinic and to the community,” said Dr. Zack Alexander. “She’s an extremely valuable asset to our already excellent OB services and I expect we’ll see her schedule fill quickly.”
In addition to seeing OB patients, Dr. Bantell enjoys helping patients with chronic conditions, including diabetes and obesity. As a self-described “big girl,” she feels that is something she can relate to.
“My patients can turn to me because this is something I’ve struggled with,” she said. “It’s such a poorly understood condition, so I don’t give them false promises, but I do give them guidance. Exercise is great, of course, but that’s not enough. We’re such a fast food country and you just can’t run off a thousand-calorie Big Mac. So we work on nutrition and, if the situation merits, explore medication options. And if my patients need a cheerleader, I’m always there for them.”
Dr. Bantell is currently accepting both general and OB patients. To schedule an appointment, call Newton Clinic at (641) 792-2112. To learn more about Newton Clinic, visit www.newtonclinic.com or “like” them at www.facebook.com/newtonclinic.