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    Nome, Alaska

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    Key iconKey Points

    • Sarah is practicing at a non-profit institution serving roughly 4,000 resients in Nome, as well as 15 "neighboring" villages.
    • She has learned about specialty areas and local customs.

    A sad fact among the population is the area's high rate of alcoholism, especially with regard to those in their 20s and 30s. Many locals come into the hospital with delirium tremens (DTs), and it's not uncommon to see babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Other illnesses Sarah regularly sees in her patients are cancer and coro-nary problems in older people and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in infants and small children. "RSV seems to be more prominent in Alaska than the Lower 48," she says. "It's spread through close contact with infected persons or contaminated objects. Here, families are very close-knit and, often, multiple generations live together under one roof."

    One of Sarah's most memorable patients is a woman who has come to the hospital a few times since her assignment began. "She always has her hair styled a certain way and is a very proud, independent lady," she relates. "We had the opportunity to get to know each other a little, and she told me about her experience, growing up in Nome. I feel so honored and fortunate because I've noticed several Natives enjoy sharing stories and their culture with people from other places. When I told my patient how much I appreciate the local customs and that I'd even tried and loved muktuk—or whale blubber—she was really pleased."

    Perks of the assignment

    Sarah conveys that the permanent staff at NSRH treat healthcare travelers very well and frequently ask them to remain in Nome to live and work. "Although I'm looking forward to going to other locations, I really want to come back here on a future assignment," she states. "The physicians I've worked with are phenomenal, and Nome is a friendly town. I love it up here."

    She feels that fellow mobile providers who want to practice in Nome—or other cities within Alaska—should embrace the culture and be open to accepting extra responsibilities. "On top of earning a good hourly rate and health insurance, I consider these factors benefits of the job," says Sarah, who enjoys other nontraditional advantages, as well. "While living here, I've taught myself how to cook, and NSRH's permanent and supplemental staffs can work out for free at the town recreation center, so I go there routinely. I've lost so much weight from walking all over town, and I just feel better. The air is cleaner up here."

    Living like a local

    Since she has been in Alaska, Sarah has had the opportunity to do things one could only do in The Last Frontier. In March, for instance, she got to watch The Iditarod, the renowned sled race which ends in Nome every year. "There was a lot of activity in town during Iditarod Week. And the population grew to about 10,000 people!"

    Nome's Subway restaurant also houses the city's lone movie theater. Everyone anticipates the release of two films each week (particulars are printed in the weekly issue of the Nome Nugget newspaper).

    During the winter, the town recreation center hosts flea markets and craft shows. "The craft fairs feature a lot of Native artwork, on which I've spent a fair amount of money."

    How else has Sarah spent her time? "I like hiking in the tundra and have learned how to ride both a four-wheeler and snowmobile—or 'snow machine,' as the locals say—since I've been here."

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    Laura Gater
    Laura Gater is a freelance writer based in Columbia City, Indiana.