Anya Hill’s first foray into healthcare was as a volunteer in the St. Louis, Mo., projects.
She signed up to volunteer with a community center and was assigned to a literacy program, helping teach teens to read.
One day, a nurse came in and said the free clinics in the area needed more help, and the center director told her to take a volunteer.
“I thought it sounded fascinating,” said Hill, who quickly signed up for the job. “Pretty soon, I was giving tetanus shots and TB tests, splinting, doing some suturing.”
She was 12 years old.
It wouldn’t happen that way today — and Hill wonders now how her parents ended up letting her go into such a setting every weekend and summer day throughout her teen years.
The experience, though, sparked her interest for life.
Today, she is the tobacco treatment program administrator at Legacy Health. She’s just wrapped up work with the organization’s tobacco-free environment initiative and is preparing to embark on a new journey as she moves to Los Angeles to be closer to family.
“When I called Pacific, a real person answered the phone. They knew what was going on. They were really warm and welcoming.”
Hill discovered Pacific when she started exploring the next step in her career around 2000. She had worked as an RN for about 25 years and was thinking about becoming a licensed nurse practitioner, an MD, or a physician assistant.
She called a variety of educational programs in the area and was discouraged by some of the responses. Nurse practitioner programs at the time wouldn’t take her two-year nursing degree (though she also has two bachelor’s degrees, in science and in English), and several PA programs seemed to start by warning her off.
“When I called Pacific, a real person answered the phone. They knew what was going on. They were really warm and welcoming. They said, ‘Just come over, we’ll go through the stuff with you and see what you need,” she said. “They were just reasonable. That is what really drew me to Pacific: They were welcoming. They appreciated that I was an adult looking at a graduate program.”
That level of care, she said, extended into her student years. She struggled in the first year of the program and considered quitting.
“I knew I could go back to Seattle and get my job as a nurse back,” she said. “They didn’t try to talk me out of it, but they talked me through it. Everyone spent time with me, helping me evaluate and change my approach to studying. They really stuck by me. The second year, I did fine.”
After earning her master’s in physician assistant studies and becoming certified, Hill went to work on the liver transplant team at Oregon Health & Sciences University, then moved to Providence Newberg, where she and a classmate were two of the first two PAs on the hospital team (and her brother, an MD, joined them as a doctor on the team). They both later started picking up shifts at Providence Urgent Care in Gateway, further expanding the organization’s growing use of physician assistants.
In 2009, Hill returned to Pacific, not as a student this time but as a faculty member. She became clinical coordinator in the School of Physician Assistant Studies as Mary Von, now school director, moved to a position as academic coordinator.
As a faculty member, she gained a new insight into a program she already loved.
“Likely the students don’t see everything that goes on to make that such a stellar program,” she said. “There’s such a dedication to students and for serving the public. Essentially, the program is in the business of educating and training medical providers who are going to be caring for the public, and they’re extremely serious about that.”
About the same time, she decided to enroll in Pacific’s master of healthcare administration program.
“I knew and loved Pacific, and I was becoming more interested in and felt more need to understand how all this works,” she said. “Now, at this huge turning point with the Affordable Care Act, I really wanted to learn.”
“They allowed me to really begin to use my MHA, which has been absolutely essential.”
It was Hill’s relatively rare combination of nursing, physician assistant, and administration experience that took her to Legacy Health.
Charles Bentz, a faculty member in the School of Physician Assistant Studies, was leading the Portland-area health system in preparing to launch a tobacco-free environment initiative, and they needed someone to help with planning, protocol development and training for the treatment program within the initiative.
Hill fit the bill.
The initiative focuses on creating campuses where smoking and other tobacco use is prohibited. But that takes a lot more than putting up no-smoking signs, Hill said.
It means giving staff members a way to address visitors who they find smoking.
It means providing a mechanism to help employees, if not quit smoking all together, manage their addiction while at work.
And it means treating patients experiencing nicotine withdrawal so that they aren’t sneaking outside and further endangering their health while under treatment.
Hill came up with the treatment protocol name — Nic-WiPP — and developed it based on best practices from the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes for Health, American Lung Association, Mayo Clinic and more.
She’s trained more than 1,000 nurses, and she’s helped develop it into a self-sustaining program.
“They allowed me to really begin to use my MHA, which has been absolutely essential,” she said. “They allowed me to morph my role into what it is. I see patients, I do nursing education, provide education, and write policy and protocol, practice guidelines and ‘words that work’ for nurses and providers.
“I had ideas,” she said. “They said, ‘Do it.’”