Since its foundation in 1939, Frontier Nursing University (FNU) has adopted a mission of reaching rural, diverse and underserved populations. This mission is still being lived out today, where more than 80 FNU alumni are answering the call in our country’s most remote and unforgiving state: Alaska.
According to the World Population Review, Alaska’s terrain includes 17 of the United States’ 20 highest mountain peaks, as well as 70 volcanoes, more than 3 million lakes, and 3,000 rivers. Many communities are isolated from hospitals and clinics located in bigger cities, and most are inaccessible by road. Mary Breckinridge faced similar challenges when she founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in 1925 in the eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. She overcame the lack of roads by traveling on horseback to reach residents who previously had no access to healthcare.
Just as in the Appalachians, the remote populations of Alaska were historically only accessible on foot or by dogsled, steamship or train. Today, small aircraft and all-terrain vehicles have allowed the Department of Health and Social Services to set up health centers in 22 communities, which in turn provide itinerant safety net services to 280 small communities and villages. These services include immunizations, education on disease prevention, and promotion of injury prevention and healthy living.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), most of Alaska’s geographic area is designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) based on the lack of primary care physicians, dentists and psychiatrists. 96 percent of Alaska’s landmass and 39 percent of its population falls under this category.
The HRSA has also designated a significant portion of Alaska as Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUAs/MUPs), characterized by too few primary care physicians, high infant mortality, high poverty or a high elderly population. 95 percent of Alaska’s landmass are MUAs and 78 percent of its population are MUPs.
Alaska is home to more than a third of all Native American tribes in the United States. These 229 tribes typically live in villages situated along rural rivers or coastline. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) has created a network of primary care providers that reach over 170 of these remote villages.
Alaska state practice and licensure laws allow for all nurse practitioners to have full rights, a vital freedom in many areas where residents have no access to hospitals and traditional physicians.
FNU’s emphasis on community-based education allows nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives to train in the same communities where they live and practice. More than 80 FNU alumni practice in Alaska, and their presence has a major impact on its rural and underserved population.
Be on the lookout in the coming months as we will highlight several FNU alumni serving in Alaska!