– Mira M., Juneau, Alaska

I am grateful for the National Health Service Corp College Loan Repayment Program, as a past, recent participant in remote areas of Alaska.  My experience with the NHSC allowed me to travel to and work in the remote, arctic and the southeast rain forest of the Alaskan ‘bush’ as a behavioral health clinician.  Many times at 20 below zero as a hospital clinician in Nome, Alaska I was able to meet wonderful Native American Inupiat and Yupik tribal patients being flown in from outlying village to the Norton Sound Health Corp Native ‘village hub’ hospital in Nome.  My job was to be culturally appropriate, patient centered, and triage with their well experienced psychiatrist by phone, or in person when he was able to come to Nome from California, on medications to stabilize our patients as they came to us.  Due to the careful adjustment of medications and quality discharge planning around that, which that so often starts at admission to the hospital, our psychiatrist was very encouraged after the several years I spent there.  He reported to me that we were able to slow down the ‘revolving door’ and decrease admits by 1/4 in the approximate 2 year span while I was stationed there.  Our hospital family doctors also appreciated the help we gave them in working with difficult behavioral health cases.  Likewise, it was a monumental few years where community providers like myself joined together and formed the very first homeless shelter to prevent our inebriate population from freezing and dying midwinter in the streets and near the ocean front area of the Bering Sea, after the sun goes down and temperatures often can drop down to 35 below midwinter with the wind chill factor .  To save lives and bring dignity to the homeless meant a great deal to myself and other concerned providers of human services.

There in Nome, Alaska, I was often delighted to work in a place where we had only 2 hours of daylight midwinter, and yet so beautiful in the vast frozen land around us.  Each year, in the  spring, I was deeply moved, also, watching the Iditarod Dog Sled race contestants finish ‘the longest dog sled race in the world’ as they came into Nome.  As the dog teams and their ‘mushers’ cross the frozen ice of the Bering Sea and come up towards Nome there is nothing more exciting than seeing them traverse the ice and come in toward Nome, wind blown, tired, but pleased to have run the distance.

When I transferred to southeast Alaska to Juneau, due to state level funding changes,  I found a whole new experience with the Tlingit tribe working in their outpatient medical clinic as a consultant to the medical staff and patients.  To observe the richness of their cultural activities and dances is an experience of a lifetime. Their artwork and traditional blanket designs are known world wide.   And professionally, it is a rewarding experience in helping to integrate behavioral health into the medical setting, which is a focus of the Family Home Medical Model, to provide for the whole person.  When I reported to the American Counseling Association the work we were doing in ‘brief counseling’ here, in rural and frontier Alaska in the Family Home Medical Model, and referrals to other services in conjunction with this, they interviewed me and wrote it up in an article called Keeping It Brief  (cttoday.org  –  July 2013, Archives – Counseling Today magazine).  It means a lot to me to be part of the refining process and the development of new innovative models in my profession.  Last but not least, the NHSC allowed me to pay off large student loans that I don’t know how I would have been able to on my own.

What an honor it is to have been a participant of the NHSC.  I am so grateful for the ability to pay off my master’s level college education and to serve in frontier and remote area of a land so stunningly beautiful as ‘the last frontier’, i.e. Alaska.  To make a difference in a land where we claim one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and that is an area that plays a crucial role in homeland security as we strengthening our national borders, that too is an incredible honor to help and find ways to assist the people of the arctic.