Orcas Island from a medical student’s perspective

Diane Walsh with her husband Michael.

Diane Walsh with her husband Michael.

by Diane Walsh

Special to the Sounder

Friends and strangers have told me about Orcas Island for quite some time. People were drawn to Orcas for some reason unknown to me and would always return mesmerized by their experience. They would talk at length of the physical beauty of the island. However, from my limited time here I have already seen more than what the occasional visitor has seen – I have found that the most beautiful experience one has on Orcas lies in working with the people who live here.

My name is Diane Walsh. I am a medical student from the University of Utah in my third year on the path to becoming a physician. For a total of four weeks I will be on the island working under the watchful care of Dr. David Shinstrom and the team at Orcas Family Health Center. Currently I am half way through this incredible experience and the prospect of leaving has me torn.

When I first arrived on the island I was met with smiles and even hugs from Dr. Shinstrom and the staff at Orcas Family Health Center. Being a student, often tends to often be looked upon as a burden, but it was quite refreshing to feel so welcomed and wanted, especially in a place so far from home.

My background prior to medical school is in nursing. As an emergency room and ICU nurse I am accustomed to working with a variety of patients in a variety of settings. The prospect of coming to Orcas for my family medicine clinical rotation was not intimidating, but definitely contained a lot of mystery for me. I was excited to see a completely different side of medicine, but I truly did not expect it to be quite so wonderful.

Thus far the experience has been absolutely perfect. During my time here I have worked with patients who have simple, short-term problems as well as some who are suffering from long-term serious illnesses. Each patient I have worked with has been incredibly kind in allowing me to take time to get to know them and to help me learn from their ailments. Dr Shinstrom has allowed for the perfect degree of autonomy in helping patients, while overseeing their care at all times. Due to some unfortunate illnesses I have even been able to develop trusting relationships with some patients who have come to the clinic numerous times. The variety of experiences and opportunities I have had here are beyond comparison.

One especially touching experience was just the other day when I had the opportunity to do a home visit with an especially sick patient. This experience helped bring everything back into perspective. Those of us who decide to practice medicine dedicate years of our lives to the intense study of physical ailments; often this sacrifice takes quite a toll on the professional and his or her family. During this process it is not uncommon for students to question whether it will all be worth the sacrifice in the end. However, through all my experience in medical school and nursing, I am always brought back to the reason why I decided to be a doctor. I want to help make patients’ lives better.

As I have worked with patients at Orcas Family Health Center, I have found that caring is the quid pro quo. The staff is truly invested in their patients’ health and constantly seek excellence in their respective rolls. My experience here on the island has, as a result, been more fulfilling than I expected. Thanks to all those I have worked with, whether as patients or healthcare professionals, I can honestly say that I feel like I belong.

People wonder what drew me to Orcas Island. Most people seem surprised to see a student transplanted from a place relatively far away. As I near the end of my stay on this charming island I am struggling to find the strength to leave. Thank you Orcas for the enchanting time and for allowing me to play a small role in your lives.