USA – Alaska, Unalakleet – Hello Alaska!

Having stuffed my suitcase with more Labrador souvenirs than I could ever need, I headed to Tennessee for a week’s holiday.Guitar Pool

Then, back to the medicine.

I’ve now been in Alaska for the past week or so, in a small village called Unalakleet. Please look it up on google maps: It has a population of a around 650 (no Google Streetview, unfortunately) and is on the west coast of Alaska. I can’t express how lucky I feel to be able to visit this fascinating, beautiful place, nor how excited I have been since I found that this visit was a possibility.

Unfortunately, there is not much daylight here at the moment, and recent bad weather has meant that the sky is overcast, so I haven’t taken many pictures. The views on the (tiny, of course) plane here were spectacular, though:


I promise I will take some more pictures, soon!

Alaska has different ways of doing lots of different aspects of healthcare. Indeed, NHS workers in Fife have visited Alaska and have trialled some of what the learned on their return. The clinic here in Unalakleet is clinical staffed mostly by Community Health Aides, a role that I don’t believe the UK employs, under a system of triage and treatment that works very well – maximising the use of the solo doctor’s time. There is even a dental service here, which has is a little different from back home, too.

The local community is very close knit. Talking to some of the local school’s teachers, it would appear that the community is very keen on good quality education: evidenced by the teachers enjoying working here and a very busy extra-curriculular schedule at the school.

It has been my pleasure to spend time here: everybody is just so friendly and kind, including all the patients. Appointments at the clinic are usually an hour long, which leaves plenty of time to hear the elders’ stories about hunting, fishing and marriage. Apparently, in the past, weddings were followed by a honeymoon hunting. I’m not surprised: everybody here is proud of the incredible local food and loves to tell their hunting tales. There are so many knowledgeable and articulate elders that I already feel I’ve learnt a lot about their culture, just by hanging around!

Unalakleet was expecting a storm this week (looks like the worst of it has passed, and that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been) so we went to a storm planning meeting with the local emergency services. The community’s main concern was looking after the older people in town and making sure they were all safe: they were no mention of funding or to whom various resources belonged, just plenty of offers of help and resources that could be put to use.

On one of my first days, the staff at the clinic brought in native food for us to try:


I had seal, whale, and multiple types of salmon. Though I was apprehensive, it was all delicious. Such a treat!

Canada – Thunder Bay, Class and Tobacco Making

Yesterday, I sat in some first year classes at NOSM. We spent two hours playing a brilliant game about the social determinants of health. Each team rolls their dice initially to determine their sex, socio-economic status and race. They were then given “vitality points”, determined by these randomly-assigned factors. As they progress through the game, they progress through stages of life and rolling dice determines things like whether they get a good education (with the odds higher for those of a higher socio-economic status) and whether they smoke. Factors that become apparent early in the game (such as smoking and level of education) affect the odds of adverse events later in life, such as illness and job loss. Some plays on the board increase their number of vitality points (such as a public health intervention that improves the population’s health), others reduce them (getting hit by a car because their neighbourhood isn’t bike friendly) and one team were unexpectedly out after a series of unfortunate dice rolls had them die in a car accident as a teenager.

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Canada – Thunder Bay, Walking With Our Sisters

Walking with our Sisters is a exhibition commemorating the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada. It started as a call for crafters to donate 600 “vamps” (the upper part of a moccasin, also called a tongue, they are often beautifully decorate with intricate beading); a year after the call was made, over 1 600 vamps had been donated. I only found this out after, but one beading group was based just up the road in Aberdeen – they received tuition via Skype!

The exhibition is touring Canada, and is currently at Thunder Bay Art Gallery, so I went along to have a look.

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Canada – A Greyhound Journey

Yesterday I took an ten hour bus from Sault Ste Marie to Thunder Bay. It wasn’t very eventful as I slept and read (Oh, Mr Darcy!) the whole way.

Some excitement was, however, to be gained at the Greyhound bus terminal in Sault Ste Marie, as they had a vending machine, unlike anything I’d seen before.


pie-machine1When you select your scran, the giant freezer door opens and the package is sucked up and delivered…pie-machine2

…ready to be microwaved and devoured.

It was much better tasting that I thought it would be!