Ted Walker, A-CNS, CNOR, NPD-BC, CPPS, remembers when he knew being a nurse was what he was meant to do as a career.
Two years into his career, a Yupik elder approached him on the floor of the Bethel, Alaska hospital where he worked for the U.S. Public Health Service. He had wondered how long Walker would be working there.
“He said, ‘I think that you are a good nurse. This will be the last time I’ll speak to you in English,’” Walker remembers. “For a non-native person, it was quite a thing to have someone say that.”
“If you were going to be there and live, and do everything you could do to help them, you’d do everything you could to learn the language,” says Walker.
And so, he learned medical/conversational Yupik. But he also learned so much more. The 20-something nurse learned about sub-arctic life and the delivery of health care in a 50-village service area the size of Oregon.
“It was wonderful,” says Walker, “There was a real sense of community. Everything is around subsistence. It’s about hunting, fishing and gathering – and surviving the seasons.”
He and his wife also welcomed their oldest daughter there.
“I learned the operating room in Bethel,” says Walker. He remembers being on call and supporting the one operating room at the hospital. He remembers the cold 100-yard walk from his home to the hospital.
From Bethel, Walker transferred as an OR nurse into the Air Force, where he would ultimately achieve the rank of colonel, earn his advanced practice nursing credential as Clinical Nurse Specialist and spend two years as chief of safety for the Air Force Medical Service.
He retired from the Air Force in 2017 after 26 years and moved back to the state where he started his career.
“I wanted to work somewhere that supported my core values,” Walker says. “I spent my whole career working with ‘integrity, service before self and excellence in all you do. It was serendipity in a way. All the stars aligned.”
The best part of his job at Providence Alaska Medical Center (PAMC) is coming in as a consultant to help staff nurses, clinical managers and nurse educators work through challenges, helping them realize “that they really do know the answers.”
“It’s just helping them get to that point,” Walker says. “Many times, it’s just talking about it and going through the solutions.”
“The staff in this organization really do look at our core values from the Sisters,” says Walker. “They want to take care of the poor and vulnerable and the people who need our help. It’s just about figuring out how we are going to do it – safely and the best way we can.”
Through a partnership between University of Alaska Anchorage, the state’s hospital association and Providence, Walker now helps introduce all new surgical nurses to the operating room in Alaska. Whether part of Providence or another health system, nurses spend four weeks of classroom training in Anchorage before going to their home hospital where they work with a preceptor for an additional 11 weeks.
“The best thing about being a Clinical Nurse Specialist is working with your population or your system,” says Walker. “For me, being an OR nurse as long as I have been, this was an extension to show that I’m an expert.”
“It’s just an honor to work in this capacity,” says Walker.
Walker is one of more than 1,200 nurses working at Providence Alaska Medical Center and one of more than 1,600 nurses who work in service of the Providence Alaska Region. The World Health Organization extended its 2020 “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” celebration into 2021. Providence couldn’t agree more.