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Learning by heart at Providence Hospital

by Joey Besl  |   

UAA Assistant Professor Maryann Hoke, left, with her student and intern Mary-Kathleen Cross. (Photo by Ted Kincaid / University of Alaska Anchorage)

A new faculty-led internship option is linking University of Alaska Anchorage students with their future peers across the street at Providence Hospital.

Last year, Maryann Hoke, a tenure-track assistant professor in UAA's Health, Physical Education and Recreation department, accepted an additional position at the Alaska Heart & Vascular Institute. Her two workplaces are, conveniently, right across the street in Anchorage. On campus, she teaches exercise science classes. At the Institute - a private entity housed inside Providence Hospital - she now also works as an exercise physiologist.

The new role was a great fit for Hoke, and an added benefit for her students. From the start, Hoke wanted her new position to bridge the clinic and the classroom. This summer, the Heart Institute accepted its first summer intern, directly as a result of Hoke's connection.

"My philosophy with teaching [allows] students, especially in their junior and senior year, to be out in the community and gain experience or observation opportunities in the real world," she said.

To that end, Hoke negotiated to bring her cardiac rehabilitation class into the Heart Institute. Her students had studied various cardiac and stress-related tests but, as Hoke noted, "the books talk about these tests in four pages." So she brought her class to the hospital to observe procedures and meet professionals working with treadmill stress tests, MRI tests and even cardiac radionuclide imaging in person.

Her students' readiness surprised her colleagues. "When they hear physical education, they don't think there's a clinical approach to our program," said Hoke of the public perception. "They didn't realize our students were this well-equipped."

Physical education students observed radionuclide testing at Alaska Heart and Vascular Institute. The test traces radiated atoms through the bloodstream to provide diagnostic information on heart performance. (Photo by Ted Kincaid / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Mary-Kathleen Cross was one of 16 students in Hoke's cardiac rehab class this year, and was hooked on the idea of heart health after the class visit.

"I didn't know there were job opportunities within a hospital stetting as an exercise physiologist," she said.

Cross - a four-year member of the UAA track team - earned a physical education degree this month, with an emphasis on exercise rehabilitation, plus minors in nutrition and athletic training. She took her first exercise science class with Hoke as a freshman and considers the professor her mentor. She credits the internship, though, in part to her dad. "Every year [he said] keep up with Ms. Hoke, she'll find you an internship somehow," Cross laughed.

This summer, physical education seniors interned everywhere from Colorado to Costa Rica, but Cross simply crossed the street to Providence. The required internship was the final item on her graduation checklist (her family flew up from Cobble Hill, B.C. to see her walk at graduation in May).

Hoke arranged a tailored internship to match Cross' interests: four weeks together at the Heart Institute, and another four weeks with Providence Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab. "I think it's a win for both places," said Hoke.

The Providence partnership places diagnostic tests, like the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, out of the textbook and in front of students. (Photo by Ted Kincaid / University of Alaska Anchorage)

It was a win for Cross as well, as her responsibilities built on her coursework at UAA. "With her internship, she's able to have more of a hands-on experience," said Hoke. "She's doing blood pressure, she's running some of the exercises, she's reading the EKGs with supervision."

Cross was especially involved at the rehab center, where patients who are recovering from heart operations stop by for three-a-week visits. As an intern, she was able to take blood pressure, guide nutrition conversations, and monitor heart rate as her patients eased back into heart stress through supervised and incremental exercise.

Though Cross understood the basics from school, the internship added context. "It's really neat to work with these nurses and other exercise physiologists and [hear them say] 'You know all this stuff. Go get certified and work,'" Cross noted. "It's definitely given me more confidence."

Though her eight-week internship is complete, Cross hopes to extend her visa and spend the next year gaining clinical experience in Alaska. She originally considered physician assistant school, but as doctors at Providence shared insights and encouragement with her, she's now entertaining medical school as well.

Hoke, meanwhile, will bring the next crew of students to observe at the Heart Institute. Hopefully one will step into Cross's shoes and intern next summer.

"I absolutely love being in this role," Hoke said of sharing her work with students, most of whom she first met as freshmen. "To see them in a work setting - to see their professionalism, their punctuality, how they communicate and how much they've grown - is really rewarding for me."

"It's really encouraging. It's exciting, and I feel very fortunate to be able to build this internship."

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