Health care workers are dealing with the exhaustion we are all feeling from the unknowns of COVID, but it’s compounded by stressful workdays, protective gear, the fear of getting COVID or infecting patients, and learning how to work in a totally new context while adapting to ever-changing policies and protocols. Ahtna shareholders Daryl Nicki Jordan and Avery Tucker share their experience working in the medical field during the pandemic.
Nicki is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Washington School of Medicine, where she’s training to become a physician. She did her first two years of medical school in Anchorage, but now travels all over the Western United States for six-week stints. In just the last few months she’s lived in Seattle, Great Falls, Wenatchee and Boise. Nicki says she is grateful for the amazing support from her family amid all the change. “My mom and sister have provided constant social support, as well as my aunts and cousins. My dad is the sweetest man alive. Several times he has flown down to whatever city I am in to help me pack up my things and drive my car across the country.”
When Nicki was asked why she chose the medical field she replied, “I wanted to be able to have a career where I am able to provide an important service to the community and help others through my work. I found medicine to be an incredibly fascinating field where I could be intellectually challenged and be helpful.”
Nicki has an important message for Native people, especially Native women. “We can be doctors (and lawyers, and politicians, and even presidents). We can be successful, smart, and hold positions of power. I want to role model that these careers are absolutely achievable for our people and also make sure there are Native voices at the table. Healthcare is so important, and we need more Native people to lead the discussions that affect our health and the health of our communities.”
Nicki’s training and school was put on hold for three months because of the pandemic. Students are allowed back in the hospital now, but like everyone they are adjusting to new measures and protocols. Every day is a little bit different from the last. Nicki’s university has a policy that medical students cannot knowingly see COVID-19 positive patients to help lessen their exposure during training.
Avery is an Osteopathic Physician in her second year of a three-year residency for family medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis. Avery sees a variety of patients and medical conditions, as osteopathic medicine emphasizes the interrelated unity of all systems in the body. On a typical day she could be treating hypertension and diabetes, managing depression and anxiety, providing prenatal care, recommending lifestyle changes, and screening for diseases. She also gets to deliver babies, suture wounds in the ER, learn how to manage critical care patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), work with cardiologists, and perform procedures such as joint injections and skin biopsies. Avery says she loves the variety and continuity that family medicine provides. “It gives me a unique opportunity to grow and build relationships with patients over the course of their lifetime. I am very passionate about preventative care. I am eager to keep patients healthy and prevent diseases rather than having to react when they get sick. Additionally, I like providing a holistic approach to medicine that encompasses the social, cultural and spiritual needs of a patient, not just their medical needs.”
Avery is put at an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure in her position, which means she has had to make personal sacrifices like limiting her time with family and friends. She says her family has been very appreciative of the difficult work she does and provides her with home-cooked meals and love, which gets her through the long, stressful workdays.
A typical day in the hospital is very different now. Some consultants do not see patients in person and instead provide recommendations virtually. Avery spent time working in the ICU when visitors were not allowed. “It was heartbreaking to see sick and dying patients without their loved ones by their side. Luckily, the hospital has just started allowing visitors again.”
Nicki and Avery’s advice to shareholders for protecting themselves is to take care of each other. They say you can do this by wearing a mask, staying six feet away from people not in your household, avoiding large gatherings, and washing your hands often.
“When you do these things, you’re showing you care about others as well as the nurses and doctors helping. When I put on a mask, I am making you safer. When you put on a mask, you are making me safer. It’s a circle of helping each other. And remember, everyone can get this virus, but especially Elders and those with medical conditions. Offer to go to the store and run errands for them so they don’t have to, and drop things at their doorstep. If we work together, we can beat this virus,” says Nicki.
Nicki is having to work extra hard on a very tight schedule in order to still be able to apply for residency on time for graduation. The experience has affected her career path in many ways, but one of the most profound is her rethinking what specialty of medicine she wants to go into. She wants to be able to help people, and finding the specialty that does that in the event this happens again is something she will pay a lot of attention to going forward.
Avery shared, “This pandemic has reminded me of why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place – to care for others. It has shown me the tough side of medicine that I don’t always get to witness, and has kept me humble throughout the process. I hope to keep this experience in the forefront of my mind and future career.”
Despite the many challenges, both Nicki and Avery say that there have been bright moments. Avery has noticed a new sense of community developing among her coworkers as they navigate the same difficult situation together, and she says seeing patients recover from COVID has been remarkable and inspiring. Nicki recognized that the pandemic has forced us to slow down and think about what we need and what makes us happiest. “We are examining our impact on the earth, on each other and how we can change that for the better. We are having more time with our families and our culture around work is changing to a healthier balance. We are grateful for our health and those people who are meaningful in our lives,” says Nicki.
We are grateful for the heart, courage and strength Avery and Nicki are bringing each day to their professions. Thank you to the many shareholder health care heroes braving the front lines of COVID-19 to keep us all healthy and safe!
About Daryl Nicki Jordan
Nicki’s parents are Darryl and Cherie Jordan. She is a member of the Udzisyu (Caribou) Clan. Her paternal grandmothers are the late Joyce Ewan and Leslie Jordan and her paternal grandfather is Frank Jordan. Her maternal grandmother and grandfather are the late Lillian and Robert Cottrill. Nicki grew up spending the winters in Anchorage and the summers and falls running the banks of the Copper River and playing in the dirt with her many amazing cousins. She received her undergraduate degree in Biological Anthropology with a minor in Native American & Indigenous Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
About Avery Tucker
Avery’s parents are Dorene Fier-Tucker and Michael Tucker. She is a member of the Dik’aagiyu (Fireweed) Clan. Her maternal grandparents are Anne Song and Harold Fier and her paternal grandparents are Nita and Dennis Tucker. Avery grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota and currently lives in Minneapolis. She went to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Neuroscience. She then attended medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) in Erie, Pennsylvania and received her Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine. She did her hospital rotations in Elmira, New York.