Health Careers in Alaska

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Public Health Nurse

Kathleen Stanton

The person…

Kathleen Stanton, a public health nurse (PHN) in Bethel, says she always knew she wanted to be in the medical field, though initially she thought about being an orthodontist. Her interest in nursing began because she had a lot of friends in the field. Kathleen, originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Alaska in 1992. She completed her nursing degree at UAA in Anchorage and soon after went to work at the Providence Extended Care Center and then Alaska Regional Hospital.

Kathleen soon discovered, however, that public health was where her heart lay. This interest started while taking a Community Health nursing class. Though she did her community rotation with a school nurse at a public school in Anchorage, a friend in the class at the time had the opportunity to do her rotation in Bethel and piqued Kathleen’s interest in public health nursing.  “I heard about her experience and it made me excited about working there.” Kathleen moved to Bethel in 1998 after being offered a position at the Bethel Regional Public Health Center where she is now employed as a PHN III.

When Kathleen is not at work she loves to travel. She also enjoys river boating and taking her dog for walks out on the tundra. Kathleen has also served as a volunteer in Bethel with such community events as the Camai Dance Festival and the Kuskokwim 300 dog race.

The job…

Kathleen works on many levels in her job as a PHN. She works with individuals/families,  communities and systems. “On an individual level I do immunization clinics, STD testing and screening, well child exams, pregnancy tests and emergency contraception. I may also do educational outreach to schools or the jail and give community presentations. “

Kathleen currently works with five coalitions and is usually involved in a project related to these coalitions each week. “We are currently concentrating on doing community assessments in Bethel and the surrounding villages. We use two tools to help with this: Community Readiness and MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership).” Kathleen explains, “These two tools help us to initiate community action and instill community ownership. They also develop trust, build capacity and create communities’ visions which translate into a sustainable effort.”

Kathleen has also been involved with preparedness activities such as mass dispensing exercises using the influenza vaccine. Bethel and Hooper Bay both hosted exercises last fall.

Travel is a big part of Kathleen’s job. The public health center, where Kathleen works, serves 38 villages in their region. “I typically travel every other week, though that can depend on the number of staff we have at any one time. Typically we each try to travel twice a month. Currently, Kathleen works with a nurse manager and six other public health nurses, though she noted they currently have an additional three openings for public health nurses.

When asked, what she liked most about her job, Kathleen responded, “I like the variety in my job. I also enjoy the autonomy I have. I am able to set my own schedule, especially when I travel, as long as I meet our center’s objectives. I also really like working with the people here. That ‘s what keeps me here…the people. I find it very rewarding working with people from the Yup’ik and Cup’ik cultures.”

Kathleen noted that one of the biggest challenges in her field is keeping their center fully staffed. “If we are understaffed it holds us back in terms of what we are able to do. We could do more if we had more staff.”

When asked whether there was anything unique about being a public health nurse in Bethel, Kathleen commented that she has to travel by small aircraft or boat to get to the villages and once there she often uses fourwheelers or snowmachines to travel within the village. “I find each village a little different. Some villages have mostly Yup’ik speakers where English is definitely a second language, while others have a mix. I also work in Chevak which is Cup’ik.”  Kathleen noted that all the Bethel public health nurses are itinerant, traveling across the Yukon Kuskowim region for work, while in larger communities, such as Fairbanks, it may only be part of the staff that is itinerant.

Advice to students…

When Kathleen was asked what advice she would give to students interested in the field of public health, she enthusiastically said, “Do it! We need your help!” Kathleen continued, “If a person likes adventure and having autonomy in their work, this might be the profession for them.” She noted that it takes a special kind of person to enjoy the work and encouraged students to talk to someone working in the field. She also suggested that trying a placement in a rural setting during a nursing clinical rotation class would be a perfect opportunity to test out whether you would like this type of work. She encouraged students to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.

For new public health nurses, Kathleen advises, “Enjoy the people and do not be afraid to ask questions. Get advice from as many experienced PHNs as you can.” Kathleen notes that working in rural Alaska takes a special person and is not for everyone. She says, “It is worth giving it a try to see if you have a true passion for public health nursing and a good sense of adventure.”

This page was last updated by Janice Troyer on May 22, 2007

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