Mary E. Clark '88
A Northwest Pioneer
For Mary E. Clark, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BC, service to others has been the theme of her long and productive career.
“I am 82 years old and still practicing! That in it self keeps me healthy and offering some old sage advise to my young nurse friends and my patients,” she says.
Clark currently serves as a locum tenens in rural Alaska and Washington State. But her career began many years ago, in the early days of the nurse practitioner profession.
Vashon Island Community, 1972
There was a need for health care in rural Washington State in the 1970s. Physicians who wanted to go to rural communities were few and far between, and physician assistants (PAs) at that time had to practice in the doctor’s office. Nursing was the only profession willing and capable of giving quality care to isolated Vashon Island, a community of approximately 5,000 people a ferry-boat ride away from Seattle.
Early in 1971, the Vashon Island community approached the Washington, Alaska, Montana & Idaho (WAMI) Regional Medical Programs, an initiative developed by the federal government for rural and underserved areas, for help in addressing the health care needs of the community.
In collaboration with WAMI and the University of Washington, Clark and her colleague Merrily Allen founded the second nurse practitioner clinic on the island. Their initial training was monitored by the University of Washington nursing and medical staff, and the clinic nurses and NPs had hands-on experience in clinical, hospital and ICU nursing.
“Vashon Island was basically rural and the ‘alternate lifestyle’ youth took to our clinic well,” Clark says. “We brought holistic care to the Island when the word was not widely known. Our family patients came because we listened, we worked a plan with them and the kids loved the Popsicles we used for sore throats!”
After managing the NP clinic on Vashon Island for several years, Clark relocated to Seattle and worked there with the homeless population, before taking on new challenges in rural Alaska.
In the early 1980s, Clark worked in the remote villages of Unalakleet, Cut Mountain and Gamble Island, Alaska.
“As an older person with a nursing background, I was able to gain the confidence of the village health care givers and was welcomed as I gave advice that matched their cultures,” Clark says.
It was in these villages that she became acquainted with Native Health Aides – women, midwives and shamen – who gave care in the villages. She served as a mentor, trainer, and their go-to clinician for questions and concerns. Her nursing background gave them another modality of care along with their medical training.
As trainer and clinician in Nome, Alaska, she fought for the rights of the Norton Sound Village Health Aides, who were the primary care providers in the remote villages of that area.
“We worked with them to help them have courage to step out and continue their education, along with supporting their needs in cultural diversities,” says Clark.
The Health Aides were receptive to Clark’s approach, based in her nursing background. Clark worked with them to help empower their patients, who struggled with dietary changes and the need for mentors to address drug and alcohol abuse, a problem with high prevalence among the remote villages.
At present, Clark is planning to retire.
“But not to die on the vine,” she says. “I will offer my services as Ombudsman for Washington State for long term care, as I did back in 2000, because nurses and nurse practitioners have a unique way of working with people.”
As an observer for the State in long-term care facilities, Clark believes her nursing background offers insight into a system that lacks closeness and sense of family during a critical time of life.
“Even though I do not do patient care,” Clark says, “I visit, view, discuss with and listen to the residents which gives me insight into their needs and care. Ombudsmen are very capable ‘watchdogs; for our communities.”
ANPF salutes Mary E. Clark for her adventurous spirit and lifetime of service. She is an inspiration to us all!
Profile courtesy of American Nurse Practitioner Foundation. To learn more about ANPF, go to www.anp-foundation.org.