There may be a debate over the aesthetics of highway advertising, but the people in the eastern Idaho desert community of Challis are crediting a Main Street banner with bringing them a doctor.

The final details are still being worked out, but Dr. Hal Mitchell, 34, has advised the North Custer Hospital District Board he is ready to set up a practice in the district's clinic in four weeks.The community of just over 1,000 has been searching for a full-time physician since 1988, when a group of Sun Valley doctors pulled out after the district refused to subsidize their operation with tax revenues.

Since then, Challis found - then lost - one doctor, who left for a more-urban, less-demanding practice, and it has been competing with scores of other rural Idaho communities struggling to attract health care providers with promises of long hours and professional isolation. The state has one of the worst doctor-population ratios in the nation.