Healing hands

Yamamoto feeds a premature infant in Costa Rica in 2009.

Jobs for college grads are scarce these days and the medical field is no exception. Nevertheless recent University of Washington graduate Hannah Yamamoto, a 2005 Sequim High School valedictorian, landed a position at one of the most prestigious medical sites in the Northwest, Harborview Medical Center.

Yamamoto, who aims to become a nurse practitioner, works at Harborview as a nurse in the Neurology Intensive Care Unit, a job she obtained after graduating from U.W. in 2009.

"I have learned so much about the interventions in the ICU and why we do them," Yamamoto said.

She started at Harborview the September after graduating from the U.W. Nursing School. Upon graduation from the program, Yamamoto had earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing as well as certification to begin nursing full time.

"If you have a BSN, it opens more doors for management positions and going back to school," Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto, whose mother, Resa, is a nurse at Port Angeles High School, became interested in nursing in high school when she realized it was a career that could take her anywhere in the world.

"I wanted something in which I interacted with people and something in the science field," she said.

The summer after her senior year of high school, Yamamoto worked in Sequim at Avamere, formerly Olympic Care and Rehabilitation Center, and was trained as a nursing assistant, a job she continued the following summer. During the school year she volunteered at Harborview.

"The experience gave me perspective because a hospital is very different from a nursing home," she said. "I volunteered on the burn floor so I got to see some pretty interesting wounds. The experience helped me get my feet wet."

During the summer of 2006, she spent two weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with International Service Learning, an organization for students interested in medical careers. She assisted in hosting clinics in small communities and treating people for parasites, asthma and skin cancer.

Yamamoto, third from right, and her clinical group from U.W. worked together at several Seattle area hospitals.  Submitted photo

Competitive program

Upon her return to the U.S. for her sophomore year, Yamamoto focused on applying to the nursing program within the University of Washington. The program accepts about 25 percent of applicants. The process considers at work experience, grades, personal statement, letters of recommendation and a proctored essay.

Of about 400 applicants, 10 are accepted immediately without having to do the essay; Yamamoto was one of the 10.

Students launch into the program at full speed beginning their junior year, balancing difficult classes such as pathophysiology and pharmacology with clinicals. Yamamoto's first clinical experience was at Overlake Medical Center in the gastrointestinal and orthopedic unit.

"We saw people with hip and knee replacements, colon cancer, bowel obstructions and intestinal bleeds," Yamamoto said. "For first quarter, it was a good place to get my feet wet and wasn't overwhelming but it definitely wasn't my favorite."

During the spring quarter, Yamamoto was at Seattle Children's Hospital on the medical floor.

"I think you have to have a gift for working with children," Yamamoto said, "and that's not me. It's a very different set of problems that these kids are coming in with. Children's Hospital sees it all."

The following year, in the fall of her senior year, Yamamoto worked at Virginia Mason in its Nurse Technician Program on the pulmonary/thoracic floors. The focus was on lung cancer, different pathologic conditions related to lungs and people with esophagectomies.

"It broadened my nursing experience," she said.

While she enjoyed the time at Virginia Mason, she had not yet found where she hoped to focus.

"I enjoyed parts of it but I had been waiting for the thrill of a very complicated patient," she said. "I thought maybe I wanted to be in cardiology with heart conditions and I was trying to feel things out."

That quarter also was when students focused on community health. Yamamoto and a group member were placed at a food bank in Seattle at the beginning of the economic downturn. She and her partner created brochures on where needy individuals and families could obtain resources. They also translated the brochures into Spanish.

"It was a different take on nursing, but community health and public health nurses are very important," Yamamoto said. "I don't think a lot of people know what they do. It's all about prevention: getting people resources, educating them about the flu, eating healthy, exercising, promoting health before you're in the hospital."

Rotation in Central America

For her labor and delivery rotation during the winter quarter, Yamamoto was in Costa Rica. She lived with a host family for several weeks and then lived with other nurses.

"Down there, they're really great at public health," she said. "I thought it was a great model in public health, actually."

Yamamoto explained that each community has a clinic and each family is tracked. She and her colleagues went into the community to give flu shots, often door to door. The negative, though, is the difference between private and public hospitals.

In the public hospitals, women in labor were 20 to a room. When time came for delivery, they were wheeled off to a private room and later returned to the original room with coffee and some bread.

The private hospital, on the other hand, was nicer than those in the U.S., according to Yamamoto. Women have their own rooms and almost all have planned caesarean sections.

During her time in Costa Rica, she started thinking about jobs after graduation. Yamamoto said she and her classmates worried about finding a job despite the prestige of the U.W. program.

"It was hard for new grads to get jobs," she said.

Yamamoto explained that "travelers," nurses who get transferred from city to city for three-month stints, were taking on permanent positions, severely limiting jobs for new grads.

The good thing, though, was that she graduated debt free.

"I received a lot of scholarships from Sequim," she said, "and not every small town gives like that. The advantage of coming out of school without any debt is enormous. That's one thing I'm very thankful for."

Job after graduation

Because of her school rotations at Harborview and her success in the nursing program, Yamamoto was hired to begin working there in September. In the meantime, she worked as a nurse at Camp Firwood in Bellingham.

"It was different from the nursing I'd been doing in hospitals," she said. "I saw the typical camp or school injuries: bee stings, concussions, broken bones. It was fun."

After her time at Firwood, she started Harborview's three-month training in addition to being on the floor. At the completion of the training, she passed the required test and was on her own.

She explained that she has learned a lot in the past year.

"We're a neuro unit and as such we get traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, bleeds in the brains, or people who have had a stroke and have a clot somewhere in the brain," she said.

Yamamoto plans to stay at Harborview for the immediate future but hopes to continue schooling in a few years to become a nurse practitioner.

"I'm trying to figure out whether I want to stay in a hospital or go out into the community," she said.

Nurse practitioners require a few more years of schooling than registered nurses and are similar to doctors in that they are board certified and can prescribe medicine.

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