Rural Alaska

How Wilderness Medical Staffing Has Changed the Rural Healthcare Landscape in Alaska

“Improving lives in rural and remote communities” isn’t just something we say at Wilderness Medical Staffing. It’s the reason we exist. In this article, we’re pulling back the curtain of WMS to share more about how we started, how it’s going, and why Alaska means so much to us as a company. Learn more about how WMS has changed the healthcare landscape in Alaska over the last 13 years and why growth into new states is where we’re headed.

A Humble Beginning in Alaska

Wilderness Medical Staffing was founded in 2010 by Mary Ellen Doty, a family nurse practitioner working in remote and rural communities of Alaska since 1994. While working as a clinician herself, Mary Ellen saw first-hand the need for more providers to staff clinics in remote locations in Alaska, and she also knew the type of providers and skills that would be necessary to be successful.

Starting with herself, other clinicians she knew, and contacts from various locations where she had worked in Alaska, Mary Ellen grew Wilderness Medical Staffing out of her passion for providing care to underserved populations. She put every dime those early assignments generated back into the business and slowly gained enough momentum to hire others to help her grow the company even more.

Growing to Make a Bigger Impact

Photo of Mary Ellen Doty, Ethan McWilliams, and Noah McWilliamsNoah McWilliams, one of Mary Ellen’s sons, was the first to join her, and they tell the story of working from a kitchen table with paper files to store provider documents in the early days. That’s a long way from the work environment today! In 2024, WMS has 20 internal employees, and everyone works remotely. Documentation is managed and stored electronically. No more paper files for anyone!

From Founder to Chief Medical Officer, Mary Ellen is still heavily involved in WMS leadership. Her sons, Noah and Ethan McWilliams lead the company as co-CEOs. In addition to leadership and management, WMS has business development, marketing, recruiting, staffing, operations, accounting, and HR departments.

The company has enlarged its geographic presence to serve facilities in Washington, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, as well as Alaska, and we plan to continue our outreach, adding additional states and growing our client base in every state.

Why Healthcare in Alaska Is So Important

Overhead view of AlaskaAlaska continues to be the state with our most significant footprint, with good reason: the state is large and geographically diverse, and most communities are tiny by national standards. Many clinics where we place providers are in villages with only a few hundred residents. Most of our clients’ clinics are not on the Alaskan road system, and in most cases, the clinic where our providers work is the only healthcare option for hundreds of miles.

There is no guessing how many patients WMS providers have served or how many lives have been saved. We hear those stories regularly, and we know that although most of the care is routine, there are people alive today because a WMS provider was working when a patient had a health event, car accident, or premature labor.

For every life providers save, there are countless more that they impact for good through quality care. Helping patients care for their chronic conditions or have an accurate diagnosis is life-changing and makes a world of difference to their quality of life. The primary care visits that don’t involve a dramatic medevac are nonetheless critical to the quality and lifespan of Alaska residents. And beyond the patient’s life, WMS providers touch future generations by what they do while on assignment.

We believe in the value of service, and the vehicle of choice for service for Wilderness Medical Staffing is healthcare. While healthcare woes are not unique to Alaska, the ability for residents to have quality options for care is certainly more limited in this state than in most. We feel it is an honor and privilege to be part of the solution to limited care for Alaska residents.

The Types of Healthcare Providers Who Work In Alaska

Wilderness Medical Staffing healthcare providersWMS tends to attract locum tenens physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners looking for opportunities to practice medicine and feel that they’re genuinely making a difference. We also attract people who love travel and adventure; Alaska assignments can afford all that! (Watch this video with WMS Founder Mary Ellen Doty and our two CEOs, Noah and Ethan McWilliams, as WMS contracted locum tenens provider shares his experience and interviews them about working in remote Alaska.)

Many of our providers have extensive experience in emergency medicine, allowing them to provide healthcare at solo-provider sites. Healthcare providers who have served in the United States Military are also drawn to these rural and remote locations, bringing another degree of experience with them.

We specialize in placing highly skilled clinicians in communities where care would be limited or non-existent without the providers we send. Many of our providers repeatedly work in the same locations, sometimes for years. They learn the patients and community, the staff, and the nuances of healthcare with Alaska’s geographic and climate challenges; they go out of their way to serve and integrate. They send us photos of dog sled teams, mountain vistas, community scenes, and fishing vessels, among other things.

Photos from WMS locum tenens providers

They care.

Alaska By the Numbers: How WMS Is Improving Lives

Healthcare clinic in rural Alaska

The figures are impressive in the number of assignments and locations where we’ve placed providers over the years!

  • Since 2010, we’ve staffed hundreds of assignments. Some assignments are short, perhaps just a few days in an urgent care clinic. Others are very long, up to six months or longer at a time. Most are somewhere between, anything from a few weeks to a few months.
  • We currently have about 100 locations that we serve in Alaska, and we continue to add to that number. WMS contracted providers work at village clinics, rural hospitals, and even at industrial sites within the fishing and mining industries. After many years of a proven record, our clients trust us to send providers they can trust. Our providers all must meet the “family test,” that is, they must demonstrate the type of character and medical skill that WMS employees would bring our family members to see. We want nothing less for patients in the small communities that dot the Alaskan landscape.
  • We’ve worked with more than 280 physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners in Alaska alone. Some providers have been with WMS since the beginning and are still working with us. Some have retired after years of association with our agency. For others, the facilities liked them so much they brought them on full-time. We onboard new providers every week; many of them are drawn to us because they know we take pride in our work and take care of the providers we place. Currently, we have almost 500 providers in our database who are licensed to practice in Alaska and ready to go.


In addition to trusting the quality of WMS providers, clients know they can trust our business ethics. We believe in professional integrity, which extends to how we interact with clients in our business dealings and how our providers treat patients. Integrity, reputation, and respect are all foundational to how we conduct our business relationships. (Don’t just take our word, though. See how our clients feel about working with us.)

Over the past several years, we’ve taken what we’ve learned in Alaska to provide the same quality of care to healthcare facilities and industrial companies in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington State. As we look forward to what we envision Wilderness Medical Staffing becoming, we know that our mission isn’t complete. As long as there are rural and remote communities in need of high-quality healthcare, we’ll be there to help them get it.

We know our impact will be felt in future generations long after the names of any of us working today are forgotten, and that is the summary of how we’ve impacted healthcare in Alaska. We are creating a legacy that will outlive us and our providers, one we can all be proud to claim and leave behind.

If you are in need of healthcare providers who truly understand what it means to provide care in some of the most rural and remote parts of the country, reach out to see how we can help.

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