Dr. Michael Hill joins North Big Horn Hospital

By Ryan Fitzmaurice 

North Big Horn Hospital has hired its first full-time employed surgeon in Dr. Michael Hill, bringing a slate of new medical services to North Big Horn County residents. The move is a long time in coming. 

The hospital and Hill are already well acquainted. Hill may be a fresh hire, but he’s a well-known face within hospital walls. He has technically been operating at North Big Horn Hospital since 2016, coming down from Billings monthly on a contract basis to perform operations. 

“I love it here. I just absolutely love it here,” Hill said. “I had relationships with the previous CEO and the current CEO. All of the providers have been incredibly welcoming, and I love the culture of safety that exists at North Big Horn Hospital and was excited to join the team.”

Hill said NBHH physician Troy Caldwell had him pegged for the job from the start. Caldwell and Hill first crossed paths in 2014, and by the end of their first conversation, Caldwell had already asked Hill to consider operating at NBHH full-time. 

“I said, ‘Well, you see, I just took this job at Billings Clinic,”’ Hill said. “But, every six months he would say, ‘Is it time? Are you ready?’” 

Hill’s passion for medicine, care and surgery began when he was growing up in small town
Idaho. His scout leader as a kid was a family practice doctor. Hill’s relationship with him allowed Hill to jump into healthcare with both feet at an early age.

“In high school, I started shadowing him on the weekends,” Hill said. “While most high school students were going out and having fun,  I spent most of my time in the emergency department with this guy. It was a small enough town where the department was staffed by family practice doctors.”

It was in that emergency room where Hill found his calling.

“What I loved is any time I felt there was a real problem that needed to be fixed, they called the surgeon,” Hill said “The surgeon would come in, the patient would disappear behind two double doors, and they would fix the problem.”

Having the ability to help a patient so directly and immediately instantly drew Hill toward earning the right to be the man behind those double doors.

“I have tremendous respect for my primary care provider colleagues who are taking care of a lot of these primary problems, but a lot of their success depends on a patient being compliant to the advice they give,” Hill said. “For me and surgery, it’s great. They come in with appendicitis, I get to take out their appendix, and they get to go home and they feel better. Or they’re suffering with miserable hemorrhoids and I get to take care of it and now their quality of life is completely improved. I get to render that service.”

“There’s incredible job satisfaction that comes to me knowing I’m preventing disease from happening and improving quality of life with everything I
do. What a sacred opportunity to participate in the lives of people.”

Hill studied at Ricks College, now called BYU-Idaho, and transferred to the University of Idaho to earn his bachelor’s degree. He began medical school in the University of Washington in Seattle, and then took a foray to the East Coast to attend Dartmouth.

He began his career in Billings in 2014 after graduating from Dartmouth, where he specialized in general surgery and oncology – operations that prevented cancer or aided in the recovery from cancer. In 2016, he started journeying down to Lovell once to twice a month.

“Historically it’s been six or so colonoscopies or one or two surgeries and six or seven patients in the office every time I came,” Hill said. “Over that time, it means thousands of patients since I started coming. In fact, my kids are laughing at me because we went to tour the three schools, and in all three schools, I ran into people I already knew. We haven’t even moved yet.”

North Big Horn Hospital has been discussing having an surgeon for several years, according to Marketing Coordinator Janet Koritnik.

Hill said Caldwell kept chipping away at him. 

“It was those conversations over the years with Troy Caldwell, telling me that he wanted this to happen,” Hill said. “Caldwell said he’s been dreaming about this for years, and he’s sincere. He’s had a vision of what he wanted this to become.”

It helped that the rest of the hospital staff joined in the effort.

“Joann Walker, every time I come, completely spoils me. Every time I come, the whole office, the clinic staff, the OR staff, everyone spoiled me every time I came for six and a half years,” Hill said. “It just became such a no-brainer to want to transition to a place where I was so appreciated.”

Hill added that Walker is an incredible cook.

Koritnik said the red carpet was rolled out for good reasons. Now that Hill is full-time, he brings a lot to the hospital and those in need of it.

“It’s really a benefit for our patients that someone can come in today and see Dr. Hill and he can do surgery the next week,” Koritnik said. 

Before, the interval between diagnoses and surgery could be up to a month, and it led to significant obstacles for local patients to overcome. 

“About half (of my patients) would say I don’t want to wait another month. My gallbladder is killing me. I’d rather come see you in Billings next week and have it out,” Hill said. “You think when you need to have your colonoscopy and you need to take that bowel prep, you are married to a toilet for the next twelve hours. How miserable it must be to drive an hour and a half to another town to have that procedure. Most patients would spend nights in a hotel before and after, taking three days out of their schedule.

“There are tremendous benefits in being treated close to home. Your family member can drive you and pick you up. You’re surrounded by your own support structure. And then there’s the additional services I can provide, which I wasn’t able to provide before, in patients that will be staying overnight. Before, it was only day surgeries.”

Hill will be offering multiple services at North Big Horn Hospital.

Services that will be provided are endoscopies and colonoscopies, basic and complex hernia repairs, colectomies (the removal of a portion of the colon), anti-reflux surgery, hemorrhoids and anal fissures, chronic constipation and abdominal pain, gallbladder removals and appendix removals in cases of appendicitis. 

“These are minimally invasive,” Hill said. “The most advanced techniques that are available.”

Hill is a trained trauma surgeon and will be able to keep many trauma patients within the facility instead of having them be transferred out. Hill will also serve as the medical director of the trauma program and EMS.

Hill has four children, including three boys, and a wife of 19 years, Monica Hill.

“My wife and I both grew up in small towns, my wife in a super small town, so she was ready three years ago,” Hill said.  “I have four children, and we’re very involved in outdoors. We just love to hike and camp and fish. My boys tie their own flies. And we are often in the mountains. For them, the exciting part to being able to transition to a place where it is so readily available is just so exciting.”

Hill said the family has a shared hobby of making knives. Hill also has a personal hobby of playing the guitar. He has no plans of joining a band, but did end up getting sucked into performing with one regularly in Lewiston, Montana. 

Hill said his family is passionate about getting involved in the community and is eager to make Lovell their home.

“I love what I do and I sincerely love people, and I can’t wait to meet the members of the community and improve their quality of life,” Hill said.