An Albany Medical College alumna gave two students a glimpse this past June into a career with unique medical challenges: practicing family medicine in rural Alaska.
“When I was in medical school I came to Alaska for my family medicine rotation, and it exposed me to so many aspects of patient care,” said Kristen Frank, MD, ’06. “Rural Alaskan medicine is very different from anything you can see or experience in Albany. Learning here had such an important and positive impact on my career; I love opening that door for other Albany Med students.”
Second-year students Lauren Westover and Phyllis Ying shadowed Dr. Frank and other physicians for a month at the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) Medical Clinic. This included traveling by small plane to visit village-based clinics.
“It was an incredible experience to have during our first summer of medical school,” Westover said. “We practiced the clinical skills we learned in first year, and are eager to apply this knowledge to critical thinking skills required for second year.”
“Our time in Alaska was a wholly immersive look at life as a family medicine physician,” Ying said.
Noting that Alaskans have above-average rates of colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, alcoholism and depression, Dr. Frank said that primary care is vital.
“We have a tremendous responsibility to provide for remote populations,” she said. “In rural settings, I have found people tend to be rather independent and more prone to deal with symptoms or self-treat until they really need care, so they often present when the disease is advanced.
“Our breadth of training is essential,” Dr. Frank continued. “Albany Medical College gave me a solid foundation of clinical skills and critical thinking. Also, from my training there I learned to treat every patient like a family member, because they are family to someone. I’ll never forget that.”
Dr. Frank, a Pittsburgh native, said the northern life suits her professionally and personally. “When not working, my husband and I spend a lot of time outdoors,” she said. “The wilderness is awesome.”