A very long first step

I am as free as a sparrow

And it thrills me down to the marrow

     As I venture forth,

    I’m going up north

To the arctic village of Barrow.


If you go north in the US you’ll get to Alaska, a very big place.  Anchorage, the biggest city, has the largest airport.  Go eight hundred miles north out of Anchorage, stop just before you fall into the Arctic Sea, and you’ll get to Barrow.

I have a friend who lived in Barrow a long time ago.  He took some time off from Yale and worked at the Naval Arctic Research Lab.  He also went to Antarctica.  We met on his return to New Haven in the fall of 1969.  We have been friends since. 

Barrow is the northernmost place in the United States.  Three hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle, day is synonymous with summer.

When the opportunity came to me from a locum tenens recruiter, I looked it up on the net.

Barrow has access only by air and by sea.  Two commercial flights daily supplement the yearly summer cargo barge.  It has 4500 inhabitants.  The hospital also serves as the base for medical care for four villages that are even more remote.

Barrow is as far as I can go from Iowa and still be in the US, as big a first step in the next phase of my career as I can make.

I had two phone interviews, one with the clinical director and one with one of the locum tenens docs.

From the tenor of my conversations, the docs at the hospital in Barrow have excellent collegiality.

They also said I have an impressive Curriculum Vitae.

I never thought my CV anything special with the exception of my linguistic achievements (English and Spanish fluently; ASL, Navajo and Hebrew roughly).  Bethany thinks the impressive part is Yale.

I suppose an anthropology degree might come in handy in Barrow.

I have spent untold hours this last week getting my paperwork filled out, and I’m making an average of eight phone calls a day to manage the transition. 

Back when I started with the Indian Health Service in 1982 I snickered at the idea that I had to be fingerprinted.  Since then, identity theft has become a national problem, and I appreciate the fact that due diligence must be exercised, especially in the realm of health care.

I don’t know why one institution would need the day, month and year of my starting and stopping dates, and why another would just need the month and year.  I can see why a different body would want to know my professional society memberships and the years associated with them, but I don’t see why I should have to send the address for the Woodbury County Medical Society, Iowa Medical Society, American Medical Association, and American Academy of Family Practice.  After all, anyone can find those on the net.

I also had to get certified in Basic Life Support (done on Thursday), and I have yet to get a current certification in Advanced Cardiac Life Support.

But I also had to make copies of my seven medical licenses and certified copies of my medical school diploma and my residency completion certificate.  

I wouldn’t have thought that in the digital age hard copies would have counted for anything.

So I’ve got my application for an Alaska license in, along with paperwork for the hospital in Barrow. 

Life carries few certainties, especially when it comes to the future.  My first step in my Walkabout will probably be Barrow, Alaska.


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