An Eye Witness to Mission Fulfillment

I felt so safe sitting back and watching everyone else write things for the PNWU blog. I could rest comfortably knowing that each piece published represented a unique perspective from a trusted member of our community. Their stories were great, and I didn’t feel I had much to add to the storytelling that was occurring. That was until now.

I feel I must share a recent experience, not only because I feel it is blog worthy, but because it had a profound impact on me.

You see, when I moved to Yakima 16 months ago for this job, I was confident that my unsuccessful attempts to find a new doctor were a fluke. I convinced myself that I was probably just calling the wrong clinics; I theorized that I’d narrowed my search to only “the busy clinics.”

As the months rolled on, however, I continued to find nothing but frustration in securing an appointment to see anyone. Soon, it became clear that the so-called “doctor shortage” facing this great state was not just a catchy news headline – it was very real. That realization led to another reality: I needed to seek the attention of a doctor.

While the experience did stir up some unwelcomed anxiety, it also helped me feel better about my choice to relocate to Yakima. I’d made some complex sacrifices to take on this job, but in doing so I joined hundreds of dedicated people working together to help solve a real problem. A problem that eventually landed right at my own two feet.

I drove into Selah, Washington on a cool Thursday morning. I was so early for my doctor’s appointment -- my first in more than two years -- that I had to seek out ways to actually kill time. I stopped for gas. I filled my tank. I even pulled out that weird squeegee wand from beside to the pump and meticulously washed my windows. Still, I found myself walking into the lobby of my new doctor’s office 20 minutes early. I glanced at my watch as I entered the office. My worries were quickly quelled with a warm and kind welcome and a stack of new patient paperwork that needed my attention.

Once I’d dotted my I’s and cross all of my T’s, I turned in my paperwork and entered the first door.

They measured and weighed me, and then took me down the hall to a typical examination room where I rehearsed memories of Seinfeld episodes that were set in rooms just like the one I waited in now. As reflections of Kramer’s standardized patient act flowed into my mind, I heard the door open. A feeling of exhilaration overtook me. That was due in part to the fact that it was still prior to my appointment time, but mostly because the young woman who introduced herself to me was a medical student at the very school I’d moved to Yakima to be a part of: Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences.

I know my smile stretched across my face when she asked if she could join the doctor during my appointment. However, I don’t know if my smile was as bright as hers when I told her that I worked at PNWU. We laughed as we chatted about the intersection in our lives’ paths.

She sat down with her laptop and started interviewing me, carefully documenting my medical history and uncovering what had brought me to the office that morning. In a normal scenario this would have been a one-sided interview. This scenario, however, was too extraordinary for the bounds of normal to corral it’s details.

damian-zaleski-843 (1).jpg

We found ourselves in a ping-pong match of questions. She’d ask about my medical background; I’d ask her about her educational experience. She asked if I was on any medications; I asked if she would share her incredible story in an on-camera interview for the school sometime.

We were both a part of PNWU. And it led us both to this very moment. Without hesitation, she excitedly said “yes.” Then the doctor came in.

My doctor.

Doctor Vaughan Bulfinch, the man who had finally said “yes” to my plea for an appointment. It was finally happening, and any attempts I made at hiding my obvious excitement were not successful.

“Are you feeling nervous today, Dean?” Dr. Bulfinch asked. Apparently, both my heart rate and blood pressure were high.

“Heck yes,” I exclaimed. “I’m very nervous. I haven’t done this in years! And those years have left me with a lot of issues to talk about. So many, in fact, that I wrote them down on a piece of paper weeks ago. And now I’m here, recounting all of it, with a brand new doctor.”

His calm and gentle demeanor quickly relaxed me as he began walking through the list of my concerns. Thankfully, he didn’t need to translate from my scribbled list. His medical student had neatly compiled all of my concerns for him before he ever even entered the room.

I could hear a checklist ticking off in my head every time I saw something I had been studying at PNWU for the last 16 months of on-the-job training. Everything I had been learning about the incredible doctors that PNWU was producing had come to life just a few feet in front of me.

Having the student come in first to interview me and take careful notes was, I had learned, a special curricular emphasis at PNWU. The school told me that they believed it would add value to the practicing physicians willing to teach third and fourth year students in hospitals and clinics around the Northwest.

As my appointment rolled on, I noticed how much the student was learning by listening to the doctor’s exchange with me. She was taking notes for the doctor about as fast as she could and had already saved him a bunch of time doing my pre-interview.

When the student and the physician finished questioning, they moved in close and asked if it was okay to feel the area where I had health concerns. “This is the power of touch I keep hearing about,” I thought. Again, all of the things I’d been hearing about the education and training DOs receive during medical school to help them with diagnosis and treatment of their patients was unfolding right before my eyes. And the benefits I’d been told about were as clear as day.

This tactile portion of the interview clearly showed my issue to the doctor and the student, so they could treat me. Talk about hands-on learning!

A few minutes later, the doctor and his team began demonstrating the multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach to medicine that PNWU focuses so heavily on. The smooth hand-offs between no less than six individuals -- from the front desk, to med student, to doctor, to nurses for blood tests and x-rays, and still later to another kind-hearted person who called me with test results, prescription instructions and follow up information -- was a perfect example of the team approach to medicine. It felt so seamless.

Each person called me by name. They all took care of their portion of my care and, ultimately, guided me to the next helpful person in their efficient line.

What a feeling of satisfaction when the doctor and student came back into the office and talked about what they had learned and how they were going to put together a plan to address my health needs. It was a huge relief to have finally seen a professional healthcare practitioner to calm my fears of the unknown; to learn from the doctor’s knowledge and understand a well-explained game plan to tackle each thing we had talked about. I even received a timeframe for referrals and checkups on how everything was working!

I felt like I floated out of that Selah Clinic.

I walked next door, to the grocery store, to pick up some healthy, locally grown fruit to enjoy when I arrived at the office. As I drove towards Yakima’s medical school, I realized how much easier my job would be now that a real life experience would be the basis for all of my efforts to spread the word about my employer.

I had ridden the rollercoaster of anxiety from start to finish. I had the first-hand experience of not being able to find a doctor. I lived the challenge that we aim to cure. And I did it all by coming face to face with the amazing gift our school creates each year: a gifted osteopathic doctor who just so happened to be a member of the first graduating class in the history of the school.

As I reflected on the experience, I started to consider the incredible fact that not only was our vision becoming a reality, but that this was only a fraction of the impact we were making, and capable of making in the future!

I watched a PNWU alumnus teach a current student right before my eyes. I witnessed one of our own giving back the way so many had done during his educational experience.

I now know, without any hesitation, that Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine is having a positive impact on the health of people across a massive five-state area in the Pacific Northwest, one patient at a time.

As every person working in public relations or marketing knows, it is so much easier to speak from the heart and KNOW what you are saying is true than it is to just imagine the story you are trying to sell. I now know, without any hesitation, that Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine is having a positive impact on the health of people across a massive five-state area in the Pacific Northwest, one patient at a time.

I suppose the reason I wanted to share this experience is that it is so seldom that a single experience can enrich you physically, emotionally, and professionally all at once.

It is fulfilling to go to work on a campus brimming with brilliant coworkers and students; to play some little part in helping the University fulfill its mission of serving rural and underserved communities.

And it’s incredible to know that the fulfillment of that mission is truly changing lives.

Dean O'Driscoll

Director of Communications and Marketing
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Dean O'Driscoll