Locum Tenens: Alaska by Region – Far North Alaska

Far North Alaska may be the harshest environment in the United States – and yet, there are people living and working here who rely on locum tenens providers for their healthcare. Despite its challenges, this majestic land offers unparalleled career experiences, inviting locum tenens providers to immerse themselves in a landscape shaped by thousands of years of human adaptation. Far North Alaska provides the chance to interact with, and care for, communities of people who have been subsisting off the land for thousands of years. Prepare to embark on a journey like no other as you engage with communities deeply rooted in the land, and discover the profoundly rewarding opportunities that await those who answer the call of Far North Alaska. 

Exploring the Unique Geography and Climate of Far North Alaska

“Far North Alaska” describes a very large landmass with few populated areas. It includes Utqiagvik, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, which is the northernmost community in the United States. The region extends as far south as Unalakleet and Nome on the mainland. Some islands are also considered to be part of this region, such as St. Lawrence Island to the west. This location is a fascinating mash-up of biomes, including coastal ocean, mountains, and tundra. In the Lower 48, coastal regions are usually more temperate and mild and receive significant rainfall. This is not the case with the Northern Alaska Coast; the Arctic Ocean is so cold, and the coast so icy and rocky that winds constantly whip up freezing air into the region. Because of this, the coast’s highest temperatures, even in the summer, only average about -40 degrees F. It is also considered a desert despite the (almost) constant layers of snow and ice. Utqiagvik gets less than 5 inches of rain and 40 inches of snow per year, which is quite dry for a coastal area.  

The Brooks Mountain Range, located about 100 miles south of the coast, offers some protection from the whipping coastal winds. It spans almost 700 miles East-West, forming a natural wall from the harsher northern coastal environment. As you move inland below the mountains, temperatures in the summer can sometimes reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to this natural protection. There is a lot to the natural geography of this region; you can learn more about it here. Depending on the time of year you visit, should you take an assignment here, you may also see some incredible natural phenomena, such as 24-hour days from the midnight sun, the long polar night, and the brilliant Aurora Borealis. But no matter what time of year you visit, be sure to dress warmly and bring lots of layers! 

Navigating Far North Alaska for Locum Tenens Providers 

Traveling in Arctic Alaska can be a bit of an adventure for several reasons! This region is not on the road system, meaning traveling is not quite as simple as hopping in a car. The Dalton Highway, the only road into the Arctic, stretches 414 miles from Livengood to Deadhorse, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. However, as a locum tenens provider, this route isn’t feasible due to private oil land blocking access. Villages in far north Alaska are reachable only by planes or, occasionally, boats. Our superb Operations team will guide you every step of the journey, ensuring your arrival at one of the major hubs, such as Fairbanks or Anchorage airports. From there, they will arrange your transportation to a village, and ensure a safe return home at the conclusion of your assignment.

Overnight layovers offer crucial opportunities for stocking up on essentials and groceries, though prices in remote areas like Nome are likely to be higher. Many of our providers pack a cooler with goods to get them started, then bush-order in groceries (dependent on location) as they need them. To safeguard against potential luggage mishaps, providers are encouraged to keep vital items in their carry-on luggage. Additionally, packing spare batteries or charging cords for electronics and investing in solar chargers for backup power are wise precautions, particularly during summer months when daylight is abundant. Providers should remain vigilant regarding the presence of polar bears and acquire bear spray upon arrival before venturing into remote villages. Due to increasing global temperatures, the bears are starting to migrate southward. You likely won’t have a problem with bears… but, just in case! 

Arctic Wildlife Knowledge for Locum Tenens 

Polar bears are just one of the many animal species endemic to the Arctic. Their white coloration allows them to camouflage themselves while hunting, and many other species employ the same strategy, such as the Arctic fox, Snowshoe hare, and Dall’s sheep. Additionally, creatures like Caribou (reindeer) possess feet adept at navigating the diverse terrain of the Arctic, from spongy tundra to slippery ice, and they can even swim when necessary. 

Migration serves as a vital strategy for many Arctic species. Caribou undertake extensive journeys across the Arctic tundra, leveraging seasonal shifts to access varied resources. Similarly, marine mammals, like the Bowhead whales the Alaska Native communities rely on, migrate northward as the ice clears to capitalize on the abundant plankton found in the frigid Arctic waters during the warmer months. There are also other megafauna species found here, like moose, walrus, and grizzly bears. Having a little insight into the local ecology can be highly beneficial for the locum tenens provider, as you never know when you may need to treat a patient who has encountered one of these powerful creatures! 

Embracing Indigenous Cultures in Far North Alaska 

Working as locum tenens in the Far North offers a grand opportunity to work with Alaska Native communities and become immersed in their indigenous lifestyle and knowledge. Cultural competency is key to working here, as these groups still practice their ancient subsistence lifestyle – this includes hunting whales and other wildlife. As you will likely find upon a visit here, grocery store prices are incredibly inflated since most goods must be flown in, and very little can be grown in the area. This is why subsistence hunting is still so important to the local tribes. As a healthcare provider, it is also essential to be prepared to deal with the various injuries and ailments the locals might contract, as they depend on the land and sea so strongly.   

Fortunately, these communities are very welcoming and grateful for the care that locum tenens provide. You may be among the privileged few to witness some of the Alaska Natives’ customs while on assignment. Some of the people that thrive in the Far North are the Inupiat, Yupik, and Gwich’in tribes. These communities still practice storytelling, keeping their traditions and history alive through millennia of strong oral history. You might find yourself entertained and/or informed by these incredible stories. It’s necessary to have enthusiasm and respect for these cultures when visiting the region – it will help you grow as a healthcare provider! 

Locum Tenens Exploring Far North Alaska

Despite this region being a little on the harsher side in terms of temperatures and terrain, there is still plenty to do if you have a little time off and a craving for exploration. There are ample opportunities for backpacking, camping, rafting, birding, dog sled rides, scenic photography shoots, and wildlife viewing in spots like the National Wildlife Refuge. Of course, nearly any activity in this region takes some research and preparation beforehand, to be on the safe side. And of course, don’t go alone! You could go with local friends/coworkers, join a tourist group, or perhaps an Alaska Native team will guide you.

If you don’t necessarily feel like embracing the challenges of the wilderness, there are numerous relaxing activities you can find. Some of the larger villages have delicious dining opportunities, though some of the smaller ones have fewer amenities, so bear this in mind. You may be lucky enough for your assignment to fall on one of the many local festivals. One such festival is Yupik Days, which is full of dancing, singing, playing games, and feasting. The Fur Rendezvous occurs every February-March and is a multi-week affair in Anchorage featuring local artisans, furs, carnival games and rides, sports tournaments, and even a snow sculpture contest. They are already counting down to the next “Fur Rondy”! Be sure to check out the events happening nearby while planning an assignment.  

Locum Tenens’ Impact in Far North Alaska 

Taking an assignment in a remote, harsh place like Far North Alaska offers providers a unique and rewarding experience unlike any other. Despite the challenges posed by the rugged environment, the people of these communities are known for their warmth and welcoming nature. By immersing themselves in these remote places, providers can not only witness but actively participate in the customs and culture of the region, gaining insights and perspectives that are truly unparalleled. Additionally, providing much-needed medical care and support to these special communities can bring a profound sense of professional satisfaction. 

Through their work, providers make a tangible difference in the lives of individuals and families in these remote areas, forging connections and leaving a lasting impact on the community. The opportunity to engage with diverse cultures, contribute to underserved populations, and experience the resilience and hospitality of the people make assignments in Far North Alaska an enriching and fulfilling endeavor for healthcare providers seeking both personal and professional growth. So many of our providers have left their Arctic assignments fundamentally changed, and so grateful for the opportunity to walk among these communities.

Final Thoughts for Locum Tenens Interested in Far North Alaska

Embracing the challenges of Far North Alaska reveals an unparalleled tapestry of beauty, rewards, and cultural insight. While navigating its rugged terrain and extreme conditions may seem daunting, the richness of this environment transcends hardship. Here, amidst the pristine landscapes and resilient communities, locum tenens providers discover a profound sense of purpose and fulfillment. Engaging with diverse cultures, contributing to indigenous communities, and witnessing the indomitable human spirit leave an indelible mark on both the providers and the communities they serve. Far North Alaska beckons as a realm where the raw magnificence of nature intertwines with the warmth of human connection, offering experiences that are as transformative as they are enriching.

So, are you ready to take the polar plunge into this unmatched region? Reach out to us today to start your own odyssey in Far North Alaska!