During their first in-person lab of the semester, UAA Medical Assisting Program students learned how to sterilize medical equipment. While most courses have shifted to alternate delivery this fall, in-person labs are still being offered for some fields in which hands-on learning is considered critical.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed Alaskans’ lives and impacted our economy in ways we never could have imagined, leaving many people unemployed and struggling financially.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports Alaska’s job count was down 12.2% in May from the same month last year, a loss of more than 42,000 jobs.
Some jobs have been impossible to perform during the pandemic due to workplace restrictions on in-person staffing. Demand for other services has dwindled as Anchorage residents limit their activities to those deemed essential, such as purchasing groceries and household supplies.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, new job opportunities have unexpectedly emerged, particularly in the health care sector. The need for skilled contact tracing investigators to identify individuals exposed to COVID-19 has skyrocketed. Other jobs, such as those in the IT sector, have remained in demand; hiring increases in other sectors are likely to be needed as organizations across the state reopen.
At the University of Alaska Anchorage, university leaders have been listening to feedback from industry partners and state and local officials regarding real-time employment needs.
When nursing alumna Greer Gehler graduated from UAA in December 2018, she could have never predicted the whirlwind that would be her first two years of nursing. Gehler received her first bachelor’s in history of art and architecture from Brown University and spent nearly a decade working in Alaska’s political scene. Through her various roles, she saw firsthand how important health care is, especially in a state like Alaska where the vast landscape makes providing health care challenging. She decided rather than work in a job where she helped make health care policy, she wanted to be in the middle of it — actually working with and interacting with patients.
Initially, she started down the pre-med route but ended up focusing on nursing, returning to school to pursue her second bachelor’s in nursing through UAA’s School of Nursing.
“UAA was very affordable, convenient and there wasn’t a wait list anymore when I applied, so I was able to apply right away,” Gehler said. “One of the big selling points was as a nursing student when you do your clinicals, you do them in the hospitals in Anchorage. So you get that exposure to people you may work with one day and you get to meet some of the managers — it’s sort of like a pre-job interview — you build those professional relationships, which makes it much easier when you go to apply for a job.”
Gehler knew she wanted to stay in Alaska and ideally work at Providence Alaska Medical Center (PAMC), so getting her foot in the door with her potential future employer during her nursing clinicals was crucial in securing a job post-graduation. She said occasionally, PAMC offers a new nursing residency, a program where the organization hires new nursing graduates, placing them with various departments within the hospital for training — and one of those happened to be the emergency room (ER). For Gehler, graduation, taking her National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), the nationwide nursing licensing exam and the new nursing residency program serendipitously lined up, helping her land a position in PAMC’s ER. She had previous experience in the ER during one of her clinical rotations in school and fell in love with the fast-paced, day-to-day life there and was thrilled she essentially landed her dream job straight out of nursing school.