When you walk through the doors of the brightly lit and modernly designed lobby of myHealth Clinic, you don’t really feel like you’re walking into a medical office. The spacious lobby filled with comfortable club chairs and sleek overhead lighting is your typical medical office buzzing with activity, but there’s one main difference between this south Anchorage clinic from others in town. It’s owned and run by nurse practitioners.
This may not seem extraordinary, but most medical offices in Alaska—and the rest of the country for that matter—are physician run, meaning there are medical doctors seeing and diagnosing patients. At myHealth Clinic, three advanced practice nurses do all the heavy lifting, from seeing walk-in patients to diagnosing and prescribing medicine. In a medical world run by physicians, myHealth Clinic is somewhat of an anomaly, but three UAA nursing alums Jyll Green (M.S. Nursing ’04), Cheri Bays-Goodman (M.S. Nursing ’96) and Brian Erdrich (M.S. Nursing ’11) are taking on the challenge, passionate about providing quality care for their 7,500 plus patients.
A different vision
In 1999, Jyll Green, a twenty-something Midwestern girl living in San Francisco, moved to Alaska in search of adventure and a traveling nurse position with Providence Medical Center. Alaska sounded cool and as a young nurse she was content with the traveling nurses circuit and working in the emergency room. She met Cheri while working in the ER and the two remained friends. Despite her successful nursing career Jyll was ready to start a new chapter in her life.
“I just felt like I was maxed out on my nursing career. At the time I was working in medevac, in the intensive care unit (ICU),” says Jyll. “I had a friend who I ran into buying boots at REI who was a nurse practitioner—and it just seemed like a good way to go.”
Jyll headed back to school to pursue her master’s in nursing at UAA as an advanced practice nurse. She graduated in 2004 and began the second stage of her nursing career in a medical office. But soon, that gnawing feeling of needing something more crept back in. After her employer at the time opted out of offering Medicaid to patients, she knew she needed to make another change, and this time, it was going to be big.
“I said, ‘You know, I think this could be done differently.’ I had a different vision of caring for the patient and taking Medicare and I said to my husband, ‘I just feel like I need to do something else,’” Jyll says. “He’s the one who said to me, ‘Why don’t you open your own clinic and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
He wasn’t, and strongly encouraged Jyll to pursue this business endeavor. She was timid at first, but with her husband’s support and financial backing, just two years after earning her master’s degree from UAA, 34-year-old Jyll opened the doors to myHealth Clinic.
Jyll recalls, “I looked back on my essay for why I was going to UAA and I had written that I really wanted to work with an underserved population.”
When Jyll opened her medical practice she was determined to provide premier, accessible, convenient and comfortable primary health care in Anchorage to all who walked through her clinic doors and she has doggedly kept her promise. She and her staff work long hours serving a wide range of patients from different cultural and economic backgrounds.
“I think people really like coming here, we hear it all day—all of us,” Jyll says smiling. “I think we’ve created an atmosphere of being available, almost to a fault sometimes. But being a nurse practitioner, we don’t always have the volume of patients like at a physician-run office, so you can take that few extra minutes to establish a relationship.”
Cheri and Brian share Jyll’s passion for providing personal primary health care and although they graduated from UAA’s nursing program years apart, they share similar backgrounds in critical care and physician-run clinics. Their ER and critical care experiences shaped their approaches to treating patients and aid them in getting to the root of ailments or illnesses.
“If you’re looking for zebras, you’re going to find horses,” says Brian. “If you go into a room looking for the worst-case scenario, then you’ll find the normal. I think if you go in with the scenario of what’s the worst it could be, you’re covering all your bases.” Jyll and Cheri nod in agreement and Brian explains that working your way backward often gets to a resolution quicker instead of “needling” your way forward.
Besides sharing the same philosophy and approach to patient care, the three alums also agree supporting their alma mater is important, especially since a large portion of Alaska’s medical community is getting ready to retire and the nation is shifting into new health care laws. Jyll says she hopes more young people go into nursing and her colleagues echo her sentiment.
Training the newbies on Affordable Health Care
“I always try to convince people who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up and say, ‘How about nursing?’” says Jyll. She loves her job and encourages her support and administrative staff to pursue nursing, while also opening her clinic to current UAA nursing students to do clinical rotations. Jyll, Cheri and Brian say their UAA education was a positive experience and provided a strong base for their careers through hands-on learning and professor support. Now that they’re in the position to help train and hire new nursing grads, they want to pay forward the encouragement and real world education they received as graduate students.
“Going to school at UAA and meeting the instructors there really tapped me into the community of nursing and health care in Alaska,” say Jyll. “Oddly a lot of the people who did my clinical rotations have retired and it’s amazing to see that they’re referring their clients back to see me—their student from 2002.”
Brian adds, “Going into advanced practice, which is something I wanted to do to have a little more control over what I want to do for my patients, I think is a great career choice.” He encourages students in the nursing program to work in a medical office, like myHealth Clinic, to get their foot in the door, learn the ropes and to determine if nursing is right for them. He loves that nursing offers so many options and if someone gets burnt out in one field, it’s easy to switch directions.
With the changes in health care coming down the pipe, Jyll realizes more than ever the importance of training a new workforce. She predicts a nursing shortage is on the horizon and that demand for health care professionals will not only rise exponentially in Alaska, but across the country.
“With the Affordable Health Care Act we’re going to see a lot of patients that are insured and it’s going to increase demands for primary care,” Jyll says. “The AHCA says to me, increase accessibility to health care, decrease overall health care expenditure and improve quality of care. And in that, there’s a huge piece about asking the patient to be involved in their own health care— to take some accountability.”
AHCA will bring a lot of changes and increased patient volume to myHealth Clinic, which Jyll says has already started happening, but she is committed to continue providing her clients with premiere primary health care.
Making a difference
The three nurses acknowledge their jobs are hard, with long hours and little downtime and realized soon into their careers they had chosen more than just a job. They committed to a life-long practice of dedicating themselves to caring for people’s quality of life.
“You’re changing people’s lives, whether you’re holding someone’s hand while they’re dying, doing compressions, helping crack a chest or giving medications for pain. It’s a huge responsibility—it’s not just a job—it’s your life,” says Brian. “It’s important. What’s more important than helping somebody?”
Though health care is changing in our country and state, Jyll, Brian and Cheri are in it for the long haul. They’re passionate about their jobs and really care about the patients they see day in and day out, forming relationships even after patients move out of state.
“I realty appreciate primary care because I feel like I can really make a huge difference. It gives you the chance to develop a rapport with your patients and their families,” says Jyll. “You actually see things progressing and you have follow-up, which was lacking in critical care. That to me is the biggest thing—having an impact in a positive way.”