She boarded a flight to Fraser Fish Pass and, with the sun shining, snapped photos of bears and bounding salmon.
During the trip, one particular salmon caught her eye. It leaped again and again, repeatedly bashing itself against the fish pass in an attempt to leap upstream. Eventually, it knocked itself out, and floated back downstream.
It came to rest on the riverbank where someone grabbed it and held it in the flow of the stream, washing water over its gills. The fish revived, and with a renewed leap, finally made it over the pass.
“It was pretty awesome,” Pels said. “It was like salmon CPR. It just goes to show: medicine, you can’t escape it.”
Summer brings bounding salmon to Kodiak Island, but it also brings a new crowd of medical students on break from their courses across the United States.
Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center hosts medical residents — recent graduates on a type of internship — as does Kodiak Island Medical Associates. A relatively new host for medical students is Kodiak Community Health Center, whose grant-funded student program turns two years old this month.
In that span, the health center has hosted 22 students, said the center’s executive director, Brenda Friend.
The grants, provided through the Alaska Rural Family Medicine Community Health Center Clerkship Network, pay for students’ room, board and a rental car during a four-week stay. “The clinic gets exposure to future physicians,” Friend said of the grant-funded program. “It brings physicians to an area they wouldn’t always know about. ... Some of them actually come back and work for us.”
One of those is Dr. Allison Hanna, who now works as the clinic’s medical co-director and volunteers her time as team physician for Kodiak High School’s football team.
Past students who visited Kodiak said Alaska’s allure was a major attraction, but there are other draws as well.
Lauren Must is a physician assistant student at the clinic, and she came for a chance to work with her mother, Lisa, who is a physician assistant at the clinic.
“It’s interesting,” Lauren said. “People always ask me what it’s like to work with your mother, and I don’t know what it would be like for other people, but I love it.”
Pels and Must each said that serving a one-month student rotation in Kodiak — each has worked at other clinics in the Lower 48 — is different because the island’s remoteness forces doctors to work with each other to solve problems. Unlike in the Lower 48, there aren’t specialists immediately on hand to refer a patient to. Doctors have to try to resolve a problem with the people on hand and must consult with a specialist by phone, teleconference or other means to get an answer. The alternative is a time-consuming or expensive flight to Anchorage or Seattle.
While that makes Kodiak seem remote, it isn’t isolated. “I think there’s a really big sense of community here,” Pels said. “You’re not isolated. Everyone knows each other.”