Family Nurse Practitioner, UAA Student Health and Counseling Center
Hometown: Red Wing, Minn. and Anchorage, Alaska
Fun Fact: Interned as a ski instructor at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont and met Maria (i.e. The Sound of Music’s “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria” Maria).
Students with burning questions about sex and health should know they can always Ask Betty. The warm and welcoming Betty Bang, a UAA Student Health and Counseling Center (SHCC) nurse practitioner and health educator, can lend you a listening ear and send you away with sound advice and, if it suits your needs, a handful of “Wrap It Up Alaska” condoms. She also stands in for Alex Trebek during UAA’s version of Sexy Jeopardy, a popular Healthy Sexuality Week event on campus every February.
Originally a Midwestern farm girl, Betty first came to Alaska for a summer gig with Camp Fire USA between semesters at University of Minnesota. After two summers teaching swimming and first aid to kids in rural villages, she landed a position in Tyonek, Alaska, post-graduation.
“Then I decided I needed to move to a bigger place, so I moved to Cordova,” said Betty with a laugh. “Because they had a swimming pool!”
As a ski instructor, Betty had earned an EMT I certification and a position with the U.S. Forest Service in Cordova gave her the chance to become an EMT II, honing her skills as a member of Cordova’s volunteer ambulance crew.
“That’s when my interest in health care started,” she said.
Nurse Betty saves the birds
It was time for another big move, this time to Anchorage to go back to school. By 1983, she was Nurse Betty and her credentials were in demand.
“I did so many fun jobs as an RN—worked in hospitals, in the ER, as a school nurse,” she said.
There was one application for her skills she didn’t anticipate.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill coated Prince William Sound in hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil. Thousands of clean-up crews and animal rescue workers mobilized, including Betty and her friends from Cordova.
“We thought we were going to go out in kayaks,” she said. “Well, there was a lot of snow still since it was the end of March, so we chartered a small tourist boat and we had bird experts from San Diego that came up. They decided since I was a nurse, I got to feed the birds.”
After cleaning as much oil from the feathers as they could, rescue workers settled the birds into transport carriers.
“I’d try to tube feed them every couple hours until we could get them back to Valdez where they had the big bird treatment center,” she said. It was an in-demand skill, so she eventually traveled around the Sound showing personnel on other rescue vessels how to tube feed the birds.
“After awhile, there were no more birds or animals left,” she said. “If we hadn’t gotten to them, they were gone.”
But there was still a need for trained nurses in the Sound as clean-up efforts continued throughout the summer of ’89. Betty worked under standing orders from an Anchorage doctor and treated patients in clinics aboard a Navy vessel, on a fish processing vessel and on an oil rig.
“That’s when I became interested in being a nurse practitioner,” she said. “I wanted to be able to do more.”
New decade, new degree
Betty returned to UAA and enrolled in the School of Nursing master’s program.
Sold on Alaska by then, two-time alumna Betty accepted her graduate degree in 1993 and began working as a family nurse practitioner in Anchorage.
In 2006, UAA lured her back yet again, this time as a professional.
“I was hired here to do a number of things,” she said. “One was to do family practice, which I’ve done for many years. And the other was to do health education and outreach.”
“I’m really proud of the clinic,” she said. “It’s integrated mental and physical health.”
Betty isn’t the only alumna working at UAA’s Student Health and Counseling Center. Several of her nurse practitioner colleagues and other staffers also have green and gold roots.
They’re all doing their part to make sure the next generation of health care providers is well-prepared.
“We’re preceptors here for family nurse practitioners,” Betty said. “I also take the B.S.N. students for a community rotation, too. They come and work with me for 35 hours. I usually take two students per semester and I have so much fun doing it.”
Betty has also volunteered to help SHCC counselor Lizzy Donovan with UAA’s new Couch-to-5K program for students, which kicked off last semester.
“I was motivated to do it because I’m turning 60 here soon and I haven’t run in 30 years,” Betty said.
In a show of true Alaska grit, the students in the Couch-to-5K group are just starting to run outside with their ice grippers on.
“We have nine students this session at all different levels. I really am enjoying that,” said Betty with a smile.
A plug for campus health
In addition to fielding the anonymously submitted Ask Betty questions, Betty is also tasked with advocating for public health in the student community. She does what she can to catch students’ attention, including citing some of the more surprising statistics she knows.
“It’s nothing to be proud of,” she noted, “But Alaska is number one in the nation for chlamydia per capita. For gonorrhea, we were at number two for awhile, but we’re down to number nine. Still not great.”
Sometimes she has to be a willing to be a little outrageous to get your message across, she said, and she’s up to the task. Foremost on her agenda is connecting with students and making herself available to answer questions. She’s partnered with Residence Life staff and done some unusual things to help students feel comfortable asking for information, including reading their questions, submitted on index cards, in the dark by glow stick.
Because it’s Healthy Sexuality Week, Betty wanted to highlight that in addition to a full menu of physical and mental health services–from check-ups for your sore throat to counseling appointments to address stress and depression–a partnership with the State of Alaska enables the SHCC to offer free HIV screening and $10 tests for other STD lab screenings.
Residential students who want to know more can always find Betty at Sexy Jeopardy and the accompanying resource fair in the Gorsuch Commons tonight, Feb. 12, from 5–7:30 p.m. Commuter students can reach Betty and her equally warm and knowledgeable colleagues through the SHCC. Call (907) 786-4040 or visit the website for more information.
“I’ve got a wonderful job! It keeps me young.”
Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement.