Co-founded by a UAA alumna; currently 7 past Seawolves on a staff of 20 providers
Dr. Bethany Buchanan, DNP, FNP, (M.S.N. ’97) had been working as a family nurse practitioner for five years in Alaska when Dr. Jason Harmon, ND, approached her about co-founding a new kind of medical clinic in Anchorage. Integrative medicine: combining the best of science and nature, which translates into a blend of traditional and natural modalities. Dr. Harmon saw in Bethany the reputation she had earned working at Alaska Alternative Medicine Center since earning her master’s degree in nursing in 1997 from UAA. Between Bethany’s energy and Dr. Harmon’s business sense, in 2002 Avante Medical Center was born.
The vision at Avante is “to provide Alaskans with the best in integrative and conventional medical services.” And there are seven Seawolves on staff who have been living that mission through their health care careers at Avante. From undergraduate registered nurse alums to graduates of the master’s of science in nursing to past and current faculty, the layers of UAA at Avante criss and cross, creating a pattern of collaboration and practice that translates to ultimate wellness for their patients.
Starting with Bethany herself, she has been part of the School of Nursing faculty at UAA for two years. Rewind over a decade, though, when she was a student and Dr. Deborah Kiley, DNP, ANP, was faculty. Now they are colleagues at Avante.
“One of the greatest rewards of being a clinical educator is to see past students excel in their careers,” says Deborah. “I get to discuss complex cases, learn from them and enjoy hearing their patients sing their praises.”
Christine Sagan, ANP, (B.S.N. ’01, M.S.N. ’07) came to Alaska to work at Glacier Bay National Park and wanted to stay after the summer season ended. So she enrolled in school at UAA and finished up her bachelor’s in nursing in 2001. A number of years later she met her husband, who happened to work at UAA, and it was the perfect opportunity for her to go back to school for her master’s. “Now I’m waiting for the Doctor of Nurse Practice program so I can go back again!” she says.
Christine met Bethany and Dr. Harmon through professional networks in Anchorage and worked part-time for them as a registered nurse when the Avante first opened in 2002. Interested in the integrative focus, she asked to shadow her co-workers in order to transition from the solely traditional medicine to the integrative approach.
“I wanted time to get to know people and find the root causes to their health concerns. I wanted to provide my patients with holistic care,” she says. “Avante allowed me to be flexible, creative and create an ideal medical practice that both the patient and I could thrive in.”
LeeAnne Hellesto, ANP (M.S.N. ’05), has a similar story. She was already an RN when she moved to Alaska with her Air Force husband and worked off and on at Providence Hospital for 16 years before earning her master’s at UAA in 2005.
“It’s been an absolute incredible opportunity here to learn an entirely different way of approaching health problems,” LeeAnne says, explaining that she had spent most of her career managing chronic illness and knew little about integrative medicine when she came on board at Avante. “Avante embraced me and guided me in bringing together my history in conventional medicine with natural practices—to integrate the two.”
And yet another Avante provider adds his expertise to the Alaska WWAMI School of Medicine by lecturing on alternative medicine for the MedEx physician assistant program and with Alaska Family Medicine Residency (AFMR). Torrey Smith, ND, has been teaching with MedEx for three years and off and on with AFMR over the last decade, but well before that, even, he finished his organic chemistry prerequisites at UAA back in the ’80s before going to National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon.
“I appreciate being able to help build a link with other forms of medicine so together we can bring Alaskans to their peak potential unencumbered and free from pain and disease,” says Torrey.
“There is an incredible amount of breadth and depth of expertise and caring among the clinicians at Avante,” adds Deborah. “Some of the finest clinicians in Alaska are graduates of the UAA graduate program.”
Dr. Harmon says, “UAA grads are the cornerstone of our clinic and a driving force of our developments over the last 10 years. If we didn’t have UAA here to provide education, quality and opportunity to nursing students, I don’t know where we’d be.”
And to all the current nursing students at UAA, the message from Avante is to know that you are needed and valued.
“There is a surprising amount of diverse and interesting health care niches in Alaska,” says Christine. “Diversify and know you do make a difference!”
“Get a good grounding and then keep the doors open for opportunity,” adds LeeAnne. “Always keep learning and stay open to new ideas.”
Bethany adds, “Get involved outside of your work. Take your profession as far as it can take you. There is a lot we can do as nursing leaders in health care.”
The Seawolves at Avante are leading the pack.