Melanie and Curtis Hughes are partners in both life and work.
The couple met while studying nursing at Brigham Young University, got married and started building their family, and fell in love with the Bear River Valley while looking around for potential places to put their roots down.
Both have worked in the medical profession in Tremonton since before the new Bear River Valley Hospital was built, and hundreds, if not thousands of locals have come to rely on their friendly, familiar faces for all sorts of medical needs.
They now work in similar positions as nurse practitioners at Bear River Clinic, where they treat their own patients much like doctors do.
Melanie has worked as a nurse practitioner in the valley for 15 years. She started out working for doctors/brothers Rod and Chad Merrell in their private practice, and moved with them when the new hospital was built 10 years ago.
Curtis started as a registered nurse fresh out of college at the old hospital location on 600 North more than 20 years ago. He has worn many hats during his tenure including emergency room manager, trauma coordinator and emergency room nurse until earning his master’s degree and following in his wife’s footsteps in becoming a nurse practitioner three years ago.
“I decided I was interested in expanding my foundation and gained some new experience, and after watching Melanie go through graduate school and work as an advanced practice nurse, I thought that would be a good route for me to go,” Curtis said.
On a typical day, the Hughes see patients of all ages with acute problems like sore throat or various injuries, as well as those with chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes.
“We’re jacks of all trades,” Melanie said.
Curtis has spent time as a hospitalist taking care of inpatients, so nurse practitioner was a natural transition. He’s now building a regular clientele of patients much like Melanie has built over the years, and as a fluent Spanish speaker, has tapped into a growing segment of the local population. He now sees patients two days a week in the clinic.
“I served a mission in Spain, so I have the unique opportunity to reach out to and care for the Spanish-speaking population of our community,” he said.
Now married for 30 years with six children ranging in age from 13 to 24, the Hughes almost didn’t meet, Curtis explained.
“We were set up on a blind date and I was feeling unmotivated to go, so I canceled,” he said. “We happened to end up meeting each other that same evening anyway, so I guess it was meant to be.”
Melanie was out on a date with someone else that night, but she and Curtis happened to be in the same place and started talking. Finding they had common interests and goals in life, the two hit it off, and the rest is history.
“I immediately realized that I’d made a large error by canceling on the date,” Curtis said.
They were married within seven months, and after having their first child, started looking at other communities in the area to establish a household and settle in. They took a drive to Tremonton one afternoon, stopped at the hospital on 600 North and went in to have a look around and talk to the staff there.
“We talked to some of the nurses, and just had a feeling like this would be home,” Melanie said.
They found a nice rural property and house in Elwood, where they remain today.
“We planted some fruit trees and got some chickens, and we’re here to stay,” Melanie said.
While they adhere strictly to patient confidentiality rules, the Hughes always have plenty to talk about at home since they work in the same profession.
“We never run out of things to talk about, and even our children join right in our medical conversations,” Curtis said. “In fact, we had a two-year-old at one time playing with my stethoscope, and he diagnosed a serious pulmonary condition on one of his large dinosaurs.”
They have supported each others’ dreams over the years, with one working to support the family while the other was in school.
“Both master’s degrees are a family effort,” Melanie said.
Melanie said she has developed strong, lasting relationships with her patients — just one of the many benefits of living and working in a rural area.
“Working in a small town is really like taking care of family all the time, and it’s just so rewarding,” she said.
She also enjoys bringing a much-needed female perspective a traditionally male-dominated field.
“I felt like in a town that had only male providers at the time, that I would have something different to offer,” she said.
For Curtis, moving from the emergency room to the clinic has been a big change. While he said he misses saving lives on the spot, it’s also rewarding to develop more long-term relationships with patients.
“In the emergency department, you don’t really have time to bond with your patients and their family members because you’re focusing on their current needs,” he said. “In the clinic, you get to know your patients a little bit better and you get to know their family members, and they become almost an extension of your own family.”
The Hughes are continuing a well-established tradition of family members working at the hospital together. The Merrell brothers worked together for decades until Rod recently retired (Chad plans to retire soon), and Jonathan and Rick Gardner are brothers and practicing physicians there.
“It seems it’s all about family here,” said Connie Archibald, manager of Bear River Clinic.
Three of the six Hughes children are interested in medical careers, so that family connection is likely to continue into the next generation.
Meanwhile, the Hughes are living out their dreams. They plan to stay where they are for the long term, providing care and continuing to build relationships in the Bear River Valley.
“We feel like we’ve found a niche,” Curtis said. “Melanie has a huge clientele. She has a very large following in the community, she’s very well loved by everybody, and I look forward to developing into that type of provider here.”