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Dr. Merlin Nelson: Reflections on a Neurology Career Well Served

Published in Medical Professionals

After more than 22 years caring for patients from Willmar and the surrounding areas, Neurologist, Merlin Nelson, MD will be moving on to his next adventure.

Prior to becoming a neurologist, Dr. Nelson had been a pharmacy faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, when he decided to go on to medical school. He stayed in Detroit at Henry Ford Hospital for his residency in neurology and fellowship in clinical neurophysiology (EMG and EEG).

Joining a new practice in Willmar

He interviewed at several smaller towns, but when they visited Willmar, Dr. Nelson said, "It just felt like coming home. We were made to feel very welcome." He had grown up in the small town of Barnum, Minnesota, near Duluth.

Dr. Nelson was slated to join Dr. William Raino in the Neurology department here in Willmar, but he decided to leave before Dr. Nelson even arrived. Prior to this, the community had other neurology services with physicians such as Dr. Larry Jedlicka and Dr. Steven Suga.

Jenell Mitteness, RN, CNP with Dr. Merlin Nelson

"I was joined by my former faculty at Henry Ford Hospital, Dr. Andrew Chang, for about seven years, until he decided to leave medicine altogether," recalls Dr. Nelson. "I was fortunate to have Nurse Practitioner, Jenell Mitteness join me in 2011, which has been a real help to improving patient access."

Learning and sharing

Dr. Nelson shared that during his many years here in Willmar he was fortunate to have the excellent support of his colleagues. "My overall experience has been very positive," said Dr. Nelson. "My colleagues have been very supportive and appreciative of my services and this has meant a great deal to me. Attending the ACMC Spring Symposium was always a favorite event of mine, in order to mingle with my colleagues and hear their experiences. I have learned a lot from my colleagues over the years as well."

When asked about major changes in the field of Neurology that he has noticed during the course of his career, Dr. Nelson shared, "When I decided to become a neurologist, oftentimes people would say to me that this is the specialty in which one can make a diagnosis, but you cannot do anything to help the patient. Sometimes giving a diagnosis can be very helpful with anxieties. Over the last 20 years we have also seen a marked increase in the number of tools in the toolbox for the treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and migraine. Botulinum toxin is also something that has been quite helpful for patients with dystonia and other movement disorders."

A patient's perspective

"I think the one thing that has made me a better physician is when several years ago I became a patient myself when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer," Dr. Nelson recalled. "Seeing things from the patient point of view has made me more empathetic. I can understand the anxiety and stressors of physical illness, and the importance of getting MRI and test results back to patient's promptly."


"In October 2019 I was attending an EMG meeting in Austin, Texas, when Neurologist, Dr. Sasan happened to sit next to me at a dinner meeting," recalls Dr. Nelson. "During our conversation it became readily apparent that he was someone with the skills that we were looking for here at Carris Health. Thankfully, we were able to recruit him to come to Willmar.

When he texted me to inform me that he had signed the contract, Dr. Sasan mentioned that he just felt everyone here was upfront and honest, and that is why he chose Carris Health over other offers that he had. I believe I can say I had the same experience over my many years here also."

Dr. Sasan Moshirzadeh will join the Carris Health team and begin seeing patients in July 2021. Dr. Nelson will stay on to assist one day per week until Dr. Sasan arrives in July.

The next chapter


Making the decision to retire or move on is never easy. "My personal health, as well as the fact that our children live up in Fargo, North Dakota, has prompted my wife and I to move to be closer to them," said Dr. Nelson. "We have four grandchildren in Fargo and one on the way. We also have three grandchildren in the Seattle area, and my son-in-law from Seattle is originally from Fargo, so they get back frequently. We actually purchased a home in Fargo a couple years ago. I'll be helping out part-time for a few more years at the Fargo VA Hospital."

Dr. Nelson concluded, "We will miss our friends and colleagues in this area, but also the many patients who I have had the privilege of caring for."