I had to pick a holiday to identify the season rather than saying that I spent a month in Alaska in that awkward in-between time after summer and before the first snows. A sort of weather that shouldn’t feel foreign after a year in Seattle. But that said, there was no lack of activity. It was perfect weather for jogs through local parks. Dr. Bramante’s sled dogs seemed just as happy to be hooked up to an ATV for a trot down the beach. (And I can’t help think pleased to cover me in mud in the process.) There were some beautiful views of the mountains from Dr. Kelly’s bush plane. Not to forget the title, the halloween celebration included my being pulled out of clinic to crawl through the local hay maze. Incidentally also teaching me why the docs tend to wear clinic casual.
I spent that clinic time mostly with Dr. Kelly and McDonald during a year when Dr. Bramante has been living the dream in Italy with his family. The patients were a representative sampling of the town and surrounding region ranging in age and background, but if I had to compare, remind me of the VA population. Living in Alaska takes a sturdiness that sometimes causes people to present late with disease. Young guys came straight from the “slope” oil drill, middle-aged folks boast about living without power in the wilderness, professional fisherman come with stories (and sometimes fish), and I was surprised at the number of zebras that showed up with them. While some are sent to Anchorage or Seattle for further work up, the majority are evaluated by the very capable crew of docs in town. Dr. Kelly reads all of the cardiac echos for the hospital and does a fair share of the colonoscopies and EGDs (I decided they’re just like playing video games).
All this I could have taken as a great experience making me more aware of the docs that practice “out there” far from where I might ever find myself. The more surprising and wonderful part was that I would love to go back. The practice in Soldotna is unique in that the docs there have trained and worked in big cities – most with stints at UW and UCSF – and made the thoughtful decision to continue an intellectual and progressive practice in a small town far from home. Whether by instinct related to living in relative isolation or just out of goodness of heart, the community is the most welcoming I’ve ever experienced. I got to know and spent time with the docs, clinic staff, their kids, friends of the family and even was on a first name basis with one of the grocers. It was hard to leave that kind of connection and even more amazing to think that these folks make it over and over with generations of residents.
Please drop me a line with any thoughts or questions about the rotation. Clearly happy to talk about one of my favorite experiences of residency.