Champion of the Underserved
Flores and her mother, Martha
Teresa Flores, Yupik,/Aleut, PA-C is a family practice PA at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital in Bethel, Alaska. She is also a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner for the local Sexual Assault Response Team. The following article was published in 2007. An update follows.
Teresa Flores, Yupik,/Aleut, PA-C, Martha’s daughter, has been working as a PA in the same hospital (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital) as her mother since December 2005. Teresa is a member of one of the teams in the family practice clinic. Her team includes another PA, a nurse practitioner and three physicians. Teresa has her own panel of patients.
The remote village of Scammon Bay is also in Teresa's care. She talks by phone with health aides in Scammon Bay. When any of the people from the village come to the hospital, Teresa is the first one that they see. She is trying hard to convince the hospital that she and the other providers should visit the villages in their care at least once a year. “A lot of our patients don’t have the money they need to come here [to Bethel] from the village. I want to go to my village and sit and talk with people and say, ‘This is who I am. I know that you can’t come in and see me, but I want to try to help you as best as I can.”
A Long Journey
Teresa Flores’s journey into the PA profession was a long process. In high school, her mother’s busy life caused her to declare that she never wanted to work in the health care field. Like her mother, she wanted to help her people, but decided to do so as an elementary school teacher. While she was working on her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, the school of education lost its accreditation, so Teresa switched to psychology.
Meanwhile every summer when she returned to Bethel, she worked in the hospital. The first year she did data entry. Then for several years she assisted specialists, such as gynecologists and cardiologists, who flew into Bethel to provide care. She also worked in pediatrics and in the outpatient clinic. One summer she worked in the mental health department. All of this work helped her realize that she wanted to become a PA. So, like her mother, Teresa went through the MEDEX Northwest Program.
“I knew that I was coming back to Alaska,” says Flores, “so I decided to do the whole program in Seattle where I could get exposed to newer technology and see how mainstream medicine is run.” Teresa feels that she made the right decision, but being in the big city was difficult. “I went from Bethel, where I know most everyone, to Seattle where I knew no one. Being in Seattle helped me grow personally in a lot of different ways.”
"Take advantage of internships and summer programs," Teresa Flores advises. "That way you get into the system and know whose who and what’s what. PA school is very intense. You work 60 or 70 hours a week and it’s expensive, so you need to be sure that it’s what you want to do.
Regardless of whether people choose to be PAs, Flores says, “In order to get the respect we deserve, we need to go to school and get educated. The world runs on degrees. If you don’t graduate from high school, people’s respect for you falls a lot. Don’t quit school. Find something that you’re happy with.”
This article was originally printed in the Winter 2007 issue of Winds of Change.
Teresa writes: “I taught at the PA training program MEDEX [at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington] from February 2008- March 2009. I was co-chair of the Maternal Child Health and enjoyed it a lot. I just missed working in the clinic. I also missed working in Alaska with my people. So now I’m back in Bethel, AK working as a family practice PA doing outpatient care. I’m also a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner for the local Sexual Assault Response Team.”