Anesthetist joins staff at North Big Horn

Patti Carpenter

It couldn’t have been more perfect timing for James Ellis, CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) to join the staff at North Big Horn Hospital. Ellis brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the newly created staff position.
“I’ve been a nurse for 25 plus years, give or take, with about 15 of those years as a CRNA,” he said.
A CRNA is an advanced practice registered nurse who administers anesthesia for all types of surgical cases.
Ellis started working with surgeon Dr.  Michael Hill only a few weeks ago, and already, the relationship has been extremely positive for both.
At a recent North Big Horn Hospital District board of trustees meeting, Hill, who had only worked with Ellis for a few days at that time, praised Ellis for his outstanding expertise and performance. Hill said that contract anesthetists were great to work with but that Ellis can do so much more because he is on staff, especially in advance of the surgery.
Ellis most recently worked for 10 years as a nurse anesthetist at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, Montana.
He said when he moved to Hamilton in 2014, it was a beautiful, quiet place to raise cows and to tend a few bee hives. Since then, the community has grown exponentially and become very “touristy,” which prompted him to consider moving.
“It really got very busy year around (in Hamilton), and the tourists started coming in non-stop,” he explained. “Not just in the summer but all year. So, I felt the quality of life was declining. I was looking for a change.”
Ellis was familiar with the Big Horn Basin area, because he had completed his nurse clinical requirements in Powell around 25 years ago and liked the area. Also, his wife’s family lives in the area, which prompted several visits since then.
“I always kind of kept my finger on the pulse of the area,” he said. “I’ve always liked it here.”
Ellis was introduced to NBHH CEO Eric Connell a few years ago and, though there were no suitable openings at the time, the two kept in touch. As it turned out, the new position at the hospital opened at a perfect time when Ellis was looking to make a move from Montana and the district was looking to fill the new position with someone with his level of expertise.
After a tour of duty in the U.S. Army infantry right out of high school, Ellis joined the U.S. Navy in 1998 as a nurse after he earned his nursing degree from the University of Wyoming that same year. While still on active military duty, he earned a master of science degree as a nurse anesthetist from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and later completed a fellowship at the University of South Florida in Tampa in advanced pain management. He is board certified through the National Board of Nurse Anesthetists in both anesthesia and nonsurgical pain management. He will be employing both skills, as a nurse anesthetist and pain management specialist, in his role at NBHH.
Ellis’ extensive military career included four years in the U.S. Army Infantry and 16 years in the U.S. Navy as a nurse CRNA. From his days as an infantry foot soldier, to providing anesthesia in field hospitals in Iraq, to using those same valuable skills aboard the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Carl Vinson, Ellis said he is proud of his military career.
Ellis was born in a relatively small town in Illinois but later moved to Georgia and Florida. A friend of his from Georgia, who attended the University of Wyoming, encouraged him to complete his nursing degree in Wyoming, where he met his wife Christy, who had grown up in Byron.
Ellis said there were many benefits to moving to this area beyond the job opportunity, with being close to family high on he and his wife’s list of priorities.
With four of his five children already grown and on their own and one left in high school, the Lovell area seemed a good place to settle, especially after the frequent moves a military career demanded for so many years.  
“I’m done with cattle and bees and ready to work on my Cutt Slam (catching all four of Wyoming’s cutthroat sub-species in native habitat),” said Ellis, an avid fisherman and outdoorsman.