Health Careers in Alaska

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Nurse Practitioner

Maureen Brown

The person…

Maureen Brown works as a nurse practitioner with the Anesia Kudrin Memorial Medical Clinic in Akutan, a village of about 700 people on the Aleutian Chain. Maureen says she always knew she wanted to go into a people oriented profession and thought about the fields of social work and teaching before settling on nursing as her choice.

Graduating with a nursing degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1995, Maureen spent five years working as a nurse in a large trauma hospital in Massachusetts. Eventually she decided to go back to school to earn her master’s degree and certification as an advanced nurse practitioner. Maureen says, “One of the appealing factors for becoming a nurse practitioner for me was the higher level of autonomy it would give me in my work.”

Maureen found her way from Massachusetts to Akutan through the National Health Service Corps . The Eastern Aleutian Tribes was recruiting for a Nurse Practitioner position in King Cove, Alaska. Maureen accepted the position and moved there in October of 2000. She moved to Akutan the following year in March of 2001. The Akutan Clinic has a staff of three. Maureen works with one Community Health Aide and another staff member who runs the front desk and keeps the computer equipment going.

When Maureen is not at work she enjoys hiking, running, reading, writing and cooking. Maureen tells me, “I have learned to cook some great fish dishes!”  Maureen says she has also tried her hand at beading.

The job…

Maureen works with all age groups at the clinic and does everything from pre-natal care to geriatric care. She manages chronic medications and handles urgent care and emergency care cases in the village. Maureen occasionally does educational community outreach such as health fairs at the local school, as well.

When asked to describe a typical day at work, Maureen commented, “This morning I visited an elder in her home, before coming to the clinic, to draw her blood before she ate.” Once at the clinic, Maureen sees patients throughout the day and does a variety of tests and screenings depending on the patient. She may draw blood, give a physical, do a mammogram screening, and take care of a chest cold during the course of a day.

“Each day is different. Today I diagnosed two people with diabetes. Last night, I had to take care of someone with second degree burns and yesterday I also saw someone with congestive heart failure.”

When asked what she liked best about her job, Maureen commented, “When you work in rural Alaska you develop relationships with all your patients because you see them repeatedly. This gives patients a continuity of care they might not get going to a larger facility in a bigger community.”

Maureen enjoys working with the international population in Akutan. “The fish processing plant in Akutan draws people from all over the world.  We get migrant workers from places like Sudan, Egypt, Mexico, and India. Many return year after year, so I get to know them as patients.”

Maureen also says she enjoys the variety of things she gets to do in her job and the level of autonomy she has in running her own clinic. “I have learned a lot while I have been here.”

When asked about the challenges in her job, Maureen says the emergencies can be especially challenging because it can be very hard to get planes into and out of Akutan due to the unpredictable weather. “I would guess that 40-60% of the times our planes can’t get in. Sometimes we have to call in the Coast Guard to transport a patient and there are times when even they can’t get in. That means I have to hold and monitor patients longer at our clinic which can be a challenge.”

Maureen also mentioned that managing a clinic requires that she keep up with everyone’s expectations including dealing with the state, quality insurance, keeping the pharmacy stocked and ordering supplies. It can be a big responsibility.

When asked what she found unique about practicing in rural Alaska, Maureen noted that besides the issue of weather and planes, their clinic uses telemedicine and teleradiology equipment extensively. “I can write patient reports and attach photos using telemedicine equipment and have these quickly transferred to a doctor in Anchorage for review. With the teleradiology equipment we are able to take digital x-rays and also send those to Anchorage to be read. The digital x-rays allow us to zoom in on sections and it is nice not to have to deal with mixing chemicals to process the x-ray films.” Maureen says that these pieces of equipment are relatively new to their clinic-both acquired within the past five years.

Advice to students…

Maureen says she strongly encourages students to consider going into nursing. “It is such a great field. You get the satisfaction of helping people, you are always learning and the career has multiple fields which allow you to specialize.”

Maureen comments, “Nursing is the basis for becoming a nurse practitioner. You will learn a lot about working as a nurse in a hospital and all those experiences will help you when you become a nurse practitioner.” Maureen also notes that nursing pays well and there is a need for nurses, not only in Alaska, but across the country.

When asked to give advice to nurse practitioners considering working in rural Alaska she said, “The person needs to be someone who likes the outdoors and is interested in cultures, both finding out about them and having respect for them.” She also commented that it will probably help to bring a “significant other.”

Maureen noted, “To be a nurse practitioner in a rural community, you will need to be autonomous and be a little bit of a pioneer. You should not be someone that scares easily.”

This page was last updated by janice on May 02, 2007

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