Matt Rogers, PA-C (Yakima Class 11) is a little bit of an outsider — a very welcome outsider — at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Clinic in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is one of five MEDEX graduates who work at this newly opened clinic, and he’s the only one who didn’t come from Alaska. Still, the Colorado native loves his adopted state. “Alaska is a wonderful place — the natural beauty is second only to the diverse group of people fortunate enough to call Alaska home,” says Rogers.
Rogers is well-acquainted with the interior of Alaska, having worked for the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) for 15 years. The TCC is a nonprofit consortium that offers health, cultural and development resources to tribal members in 42 Alaskan villages, and it operates the Isaac Health Clinic. Rogers, who had served as the rural medical director of healthcare services for more than half of those villages, is now the clinical director of the cinic.
“I’m really excited about it. We now have our own radiology department and lab, and we hired 60 new staff members,” says Rogers. In addition to expanding services and personnel, his clinic is the first in the state to offer 3D mammography to its patients — an important milestone, considering that breast cancer is the most common cancer in the region. “The clinic has enormous potential to vastly improve the health status of people throughout the Alaska interior,” says Rogers.
The interior served by the Isaac Health Clinic is large — about the size of Texas — and the demand is high. In 2012, there were 26,630 medical visits to the clinic, previously housed at the local hospital. The interior is also hard to reach. Only 11 out of the 31 villages served by the TCC are accessible by road, so clinic caregivers routinely fly to these areas to see their patients. “Thanks to our additional staffing, we increased our village presence by 30 percent,” says Rogers.
Another way the clinic enhances care for tribal members is by training villagers to provide healthcare services — the community aide model. “It’s not feasible to place healthcare providers in really tiny villages with only 100 people or so, because there aren’t enough resources” says Rogers. Community aides are trained to provide some primary health-care services, such as well-child visits, and prenatal and emergency care.
In fact, Rogers first became interested in the physician assistant profession as a community health aide. Then he applied to MEDEX Northwest. The same holds true for the other MEDEX graduates on staff at the clinic — Jim Andrulli, PA-C (Seattle Class 17), Cecelia Grant, PA-C (Yakima Class 15), Marilyn Attla, PA-C (Seattle Class 24), and Mathilda Huntington, PA-C (Seattle Class 28) — who were aides before they applied to MEDEX. Then they returned to Alaska to practice.
The Chief Andrew Isaac Health Clinic also serves as a training ground for MEDEX students. It’s a popular program — there are one or two students there at any given time. Since the program became available through the University of Alaska in Anchorage, most of the students hail from Alaska. “It’s a source of student pride that they’re all Alaskan,” says Rogers.
Another source of pride, this one claimed by Rogers and his colleagues? “We’re successful because we have a team of highly skilled and compassionate, mission-driven professionals,” Rogers says. “I am proud to be part of the team and especially lucky to work with past MEDEX graduates and current students.”