Op-ed: Proud to be a nurse in Alaska

Alaskans are all too familiar with the challenges presented by living in the Last Frontier. It’s enough to try and buy furniture from IKEA, much less worrying about the cold and darkness that envelops most of the state for the majority of the year. And what does this have to do with being a nurse in Alaska?

Thanks to a successful instate nursing program at the University of Alaska Anchorage, our state doesn’t suffer as much from a shortage in registered nurses as the rest of the country. In fact qualified students wait in line to get into nursing classes at UAA.

But, in the 2012 Alaska License Renewal Survey for Registered Nurses conducted by the Alaska Board of Nursing, nurses 55 years old and older dominate the profession at more than 40 percent. That means we are not on safe grounds either.

And this brings us back to shipping. If you think ordering a sofa from outside is difficult, just consider the challenges entailed in importing nurses. Then also take into account the teachers needed to train the ambitious Alaskan students who are striving to become nurses but must wait sometimes more than a year to get into nursing school here.

It takes a special person to work this job. It takes a special person to devote their life to the health, safety and wellbeing of others.

In the medical field, credit often goes to doctors; orders are given from supervisors as well as patients and their caregivers; duties can be categorized under everything from janitorial to life-saving; and the hours are long. Sometimes very long. And holidays at home with family are a privilege, not something to be taken for granted. From happy occasions like the birth of a child to solemn circumstances like illness and death, medical emergencies don’t take holidays.

In Alaska, it takes someone of an even higher quality to work this job. In some places around the state — places that outsiders only hear about on National Geographic or Discovery Channel reality shows, places where the nearest hospital is a 45-minute flight away, assuming weather permits — treating a patient with a life-threatening injury takes an entirely different level of patience and care.

On May 6, 2013, the Alaska Nurses Association is joining the American Nurses Association in celebrating National Nurses Week, held annually May 6-12.

The purpose of the weeklong celebration is to raise awareness of the value of nursing and help educate the public about the role nurses play in meeting the health care needs of the American people.

But more than that, this week is a reminder for all nurses to pause and look around at our colleagues. It is a time for us to acknowledge how blessed we are to be a part of such a wonderful group of people.

We get to come to work in places like Anchorage, Kenai, Fairbanks, Barrow, Ketchikan and other remote and beautiful places in Alaska and spend time doing meaningful work with dedicated and caring co-workers who share a common interest in keeping our fellow Alaskans healthy and happy.

No time spent working nurse is time wasted — be it in a village clinic or large city hospital. We all have our reasons for doing what we do, but at the end of the day our main reason is the people we serve, our fellow Alaskans. And that is why I am proud to be a nurse in Alaska, and why this Nurses Week we celebrate more than just nurses. We celebrate all the reasons, new and old, that make us come to work each day despite the challenges and hardship that come with being a nurse.

Velinda Albrechta-East BSN, RNC is a member of the Alaska Nurses Association and president of the Central Peninsula Bargaining Unit in Soldotna.

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