Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Six Geese for the Tundra PA

On the sixth day of Christmas, your true love gave to you, six geese a layin'!

Q. What are you going to do with all of those eggs?

Make omelets!

Q.1 What made you decide you wanted to be a PA?

I started out in college back in the '70s as a pre-med major, but got seriously distracted and followed other paths in life for about 15 years. In my 30s I decided that I'd missed my true calling and really did want a career in medicine, but knew I'd have a tough time getting accepted to medical school at such an advanced age. Becoming a PA was the perfect solution.

Q.2 What’s the best part of your job? The worst?

The very best part of my job is the patients themselves. I work with the Yup'ik Eskimo people of southwest Alaska, and they are, on the whole, warm, generous, hospitible folks who are appreciative of the care they receive. They tend not to come in for trivial complaints, so by the time they do come in they are sicker than the average lower-48 patient. Which makes the medicine more challenging. I practice at the very edge of my ability, every day. The worst part of my job is the feeling of being overwhelmed. There is just too much work, too many patients, for the medical staff to take care of. In my ten years there, the hospital has never been fully staffed, but has reached critical levels in the past year or so. We desperately need more physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Anybody out there ready for the challenge of a lifetime? Come on up! Alaska is the place!

Q.3 Did you have another career before you became a PA?

Licensed massage therapist, emergency medical technician, phlebotomist, medical assistant, medical research technician, health educator (I also have an Master's in Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill), smoking cessation instructor, medical transcriptionist...

Q.4 You could be a PA working in a clinic in Cleveland right now, but it looks like you’ve always chosen the more adventurous PA jobs. Was that your always your plan?

The PA program I attended, Medex NW in Seattle, has a strong commitment to training providers for medically underserved areas, and those are definitely the more adventurous jobs. Some of my clinical rotations were in pretty "out there" locations, and I found that I really liked it. I am just not a city girl; give me wilderness anytime.

Q.5 Have you started working on your novel yet?

Well...sort of. I've spent quite a lot of time and brain power thinking about it, creating characters, considering plot elements, writing different scenes. What I haven't done is pull it all together yet.

Q.6 What made you decide on moving to Alaska? Had you been there before?

I've always had a fascination about Alaska, but never figured I'd end up living here. When I was in PA school in the early 90s, three of my classmates were Alaska Native (one Yup'ik from Bethel, one Inuit from Barrow, one Athabascan from Fairbanks). The program was trying to get a bush medicine rotation set up out of the hospital in Bethel where I now work, and I really wanted to do that, but it did not work out. The hospital has been very resistant to accepting PA students for training, something I am still trying to help bring about. In the summer of 1998, when I'd been a family practice PA for six years, I had the opportunity to go to Bethel for a month-long locum tenens. It was my first trip to Alaska, and within 3 days I was in love with the place, the people, the medical practice. I didn't want to go home. However, it was August. Being a downhill skier, I'd experienced cold weather--but not 40 below zero, which Bethel often gets in January. I wasn't sure I could deal with that. So I came back in January, and it was 40 below. And I did fine. So I signed a contract, moved to Alaska, and have loved it ever since.

Q.7 What’s the most useless thing you have ever bought?

Hmmm. I actually can't think of a useless thing I ever bought.

Q.8 If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

To be able to fly. No question.

Q.9 Tell us about the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on the job.

Tough one, I haven't had many of those. OK, not on the job exactly, but during my training I did a surgical rotation at a VA hospital. One of the younger patients, a Vietnam-era vet, had a burn in the groin area from falling asleep with a heating pad in that area (no idea why he had a heating pad there, his reason for admission was not pelvic). Now they teach you in medical school that no matter what the patient tells or shows you, you keep a straight face and deal with the issue seriously. The staff PA that I was rounding with got a little gleam in her eye (I should have noticed) when we entered this patient's room. As we exposed the burn for dressing change, the patient and the PA both enjoyed my shocked expression and sudden sharp intake of breath to see the large bar bell shaped piece of jewelry that pierced the head of his penis. Right through, side to side. The HEAD. I was embarrassed to have reacted, but sixteen years later I haven't seen much to top it.

Q.10 What food do you absolutely hate and will never eat?

Coconut. Not in any form, no matter what. Well, OK, maybe if I'd been shipwrecked with Tom Hanks in Castaway, but nothing short of that.

Q.11 What’s the name of one movie that you watch over and over?

The movie I have probably watched more times than any other would be The Sound of Music. But that's because at 13 years old, I was totally in love with Julie Andrews. I must have seen it 20 times, but not in the last 20 years. These days, movies I love to watch again are Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Shawshank Redemption, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind (or GWTW to all True Southerners), Shirley Valentine, any old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers movie, lots of others...

Q.12 Do you play any musical instruments?

Piano, guitar, drums (like congas, jimbe) didgireedo. None of them well.

Q.13 What do your co-workers do that really irritate you?

The gossipping slackards really piss me off; fortunately we don't have too many of those, and the ones who slip through don't last long.

Q.14 Tell me the craziest thing you have ever seen at one of those wild hospital Christmas parties I’m always hearing about.

I must have worked at the wrong institutions in my career; I've never been to one of those. 'Course, I'm not in emergency medicine; I hear that's where all the wildness comes out. When GruntDoc and Scalpel and Monkey Girl and Movin' Meat and ER Nursery and Nurse K and Ambulance Driver start swinging from the chandeliers, I want to be there! [Me too! ~ MA]

Holiday Quickfire Questions.


a. reindeer - Dasher; I named one of my sled dogs after him
b. cookie - peanut butter
c. carol - Sleigh Ride
d. holiday television show - Holiday Inn or White Christmas
e. activity - giving someone the perfect gift

Thank you for being my sixth day of Christmas, The Tundra PA at Tundra Medicine Dreams.


The Tundra PA said...

Thanks, Medblog Addict! It was lots of fun, you came up with some good questions. I'm looking forward to the next six days--but what happened to MonkeyGirl and her five golden rings?

Unknown said...

Great interview, MA!

I honestly had never came across The Tundra PA's blog before, but I really like it.

I'll be subscribing.