As the manager of the critical care unit at Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC), Pedro Melgar oversees some of the state’s most severe injuries. ANMC operates one of the two highest-level trauma centers in the state, meaning patients may arrive from across the street in Anchorage or from remote Arctic communities after an hours-long medevac journey.
Pedro has made his home in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He’s an advocate of continuing education and, as he rotated through hospital units early in his career, he found himself learning the most when the issues were most severe. “ICU is kind of the highest level of knowledge environment you can be in,” he said.
Pedro—who now oversees 75 staff members in the critical care unit—has been learning since he arrived in Anchorage 21 years ago. Back then, though, his most pressing concern was just learning to speak English.
From the Andes to Anchorage
Pedro grew up in Arequipa—a dense hilly city high in the Peruvian Andes. His aunt was in the Peruvian Air Force and had met and married an American while stationed in the United States. Pedro’s grandparents had moved North soon after and, a decade later, Pedro followed with his father and sisters.
“I remember the day when I got to Alaska—it was June 24,” he recalled. Just shy of the solstice, his first memories of Anchorage include playing basketball until three in the morning under the midnight sun. During the day, though, they’d wait for their American uncle to return from work and help the family navigate their new life. Not only was English completely new to Pedro, so was the sprawling grid of strips malls and parking lots. “I came here and it all looked the same to me,” he said.
Pedro’s future plans also presented a challenge. He had already earned his high school diploma in Peru, but was still high school age by American standards. Worse, with no language skills, he would have to start back over in 9th grade. So, rather than live out most people’s nightmare and complete high school all over again, he instead turned his attention to UAA.
“That’s where it started. Taking classes, undecided about what I wanted to do with my life,” he noted. He started off sensibly with an ESL course, then branched out to his old favorites like chemistry, biology and math. Meanwhile, he worked landscaping in summer and fast food in the winter, just waiting for academic inspiration to strike.
He can’t recall what class it was now, but he remembers the presentation. A representative from Providence Extended Care came to campus to present on nursing careers. Pedro stayed after class and soon found his first job in the field. “I wanted to find out more about what a CNA [certified nursing assistant] does and she said, why don’t you just come and work with us,” he recalled. “She basically trained me to be a CNA.”
He’d finally figured it out. With all those science credits on his transcript, Pedro launched into the nursing program and graduated with a B.S. in nursing science in 2002.
After college, he started his career at Alaska Regional Hospital and rotated through the departments before settling in the ICU. He kept in touch with UAA classmates who worked at Alaska Native Medical Center and, soon enough, he was picking up shifts there and working at both hospitals.
“I actually worked two jobs full-time for four years,” Pedro said casually. On top of that, he and his wife were raising twin toddlers. It was understandably exhausting and, when he had to make a choice, he chose ANMC. Good thing he did—now, he’s on a far more bearable schedule as the critical care manager.
At home in the hospital
“I love the unit,” Pedro said of his large staff at ANMC. “The dynamics compared to other hospitals in town [are] so different … [there are] so many things going on here to improve patient care and satisfaction,” he said.
As the nurse manager, Pedro makes sure reviews and trainings are up to date, nurses are current on skills and education, supplies and equipment are maintained and clean and that any nurse, with any question, can come to him for support. Additionally, he represents the unit at hospital-wide meetings. He’s the face of a critically important arm of the hospital.
ANMC is directly connected to the villages, adding an extra element to the care they provide. The hospital receives numerous patients medevaced from their small communities throughout the state. More often than not, these patients—experiencing anything from stroke to organ failure to a major accident—end up in critical care. At ANMC, medevaced patients can take hours to arrive at the hospital (and only if the weather is cooperating). “They come to us basically on life support,” Pedro said of his patients.
Despite the serious nature of their day-to-day, everyone on the critical care staff is upbeat and cheerful. It’s very visibly a team atmosphere, and one that Pedro is happy to be a part of.
Now he’s on the other side of the learning process. Nursing students from UAA rotate through critical care when they first start, and Pedro offers the same attention and guidance he received as a student. “The time that I spent at UAA was really great,” he recalled. “Now I get nurses that come in new to the ICU and I see how I was like that. You just want to share what you know and help them.”
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement