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Medical Student Experiences Rural Alaska Rotations

Wednesday, January 15, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joy Ingram
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by Graham Becherer-Bailey, NWRPCA OMSIII/ MPH Candidate, A.T. Still University, School of Osteopathic Medicine

It is not everyday that you have the opportunity to fly to work over a glacial fjord in a bush plane. However, this past fall that became my reality for several months while studying medicine in Alaska. With the approval of my medical school A.T. Still School of Osteopathic Medicine and generous scholarship support from the Northwest Regional Primary Care Association I spent the fall semester of my third year in medical school studying Family Medicine, Psychiatry and Pediatrics in Alaska. I spent large percentage of my time in remote communities accessible only by bush plane, boat or dog sled. "Rural medicine" has become a catch-phrase and battle cry for medicine in isolated and underserved locals. Alaska takes that concept one step further with what could be defined as "Frontier Medicine." Outside of the few urban centers Alaskan medicine is dominated by rural primary care physicians who out of necessity treat everything and everyone who walks in the door. Being able to participate in childbirths or trauma care while knowing the nearest back-up was a 500 mile flight away could be seen as nerve wracking. However, I can't imagine a better place to experience true primary care medicine. Alaska also profound primary care medicine needs with exceptionally high rates of alcoholism, abuse, and suicide as well as lingering outbreaks of diseases like tuberculosis that are rare in other U.S. locations. As a medical student, Alaska provided a wonderful classroom with copious hands on experience and diverse pathology. Yet, my greatest satisfaction from the experience came from knowing my actions were both impactful and appreciated in the communities I visited. Whether it was in the sleepy fishing community of Seldovia or the Inupiaq subsistence hunting village of Shishmaref far away on the arctic circle, each community was exceedingly gracious and excited to help teach a future physician. I can only hope that one day I will be able to repay the kindness I was shown in remote Alaska by returning as Frontier Physician.
Oh, and to be fair I didn't get to fly to work EVERY day...













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