By SVERRE BAKKE
Can't get in to see a doctor?
White Salmon's Mid-Columbia Family Health Center suggests you try making an appointment with one of its Family Nurse Practitioners or its newest Physician's Assistant.
Denise Heard, a Family Nurse Practitioner, joined the local practice 13 months ago. She has been a licensed nurse practitioner since 1994 and in the health-care profession for 23 years.
Prior to becoming a Family Nurse Practioner, Heard was a registered nurse (RN). But, she said, she always planned to pursue certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
"I knew I wanted to do this from the beginning," she explained. "This was the final goal I was looking for."
A key difference between a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and a Physician's Assistant (PA), Heard noted, is that PAs often don't have the nursing background.
A Trout Lake resident, Heard said she was drawn to becoming an FNP by the independence it offers. (RNs are trained to carry out doctors' instructions in the care of patients.) She completed the requisite two-year master's program with a specialty in family medicine.
"I like the independent practice in terms of I don't have to be under someone else's supervision," she said of being an FNP.
And though she can't admit and discharge patients from hospital, she added, "I don't have to be on call. That's the good part."
Right now, Heard said, she doesn't have a fixed office schedule; however, she is available to see patients three days a week, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
"Every week is different," she noted. "It all depends on how the schedule needs to be filled out."
During the days she is in the office, Heard is able to see patients who have primary care, acute care or urgent care needs.
"Some people choose to see a nurse practitioner because we offer a different way to come at patient care," she said. "And because I'm female, I see a lot of women for women's health issues."
In her free time, Heard enjoys spending time outdoors, whether its cross-country skiing in winter or gardening during the growing seasons.
Another interest of hers, she said, is raising organically grown medicinal herbs with her husband, Brooks, an architect. As an extension of that, she added, the couple is planning to start producing organic seeds.
"We're also in the process of building our own home," Heard said, "so we have lots going on."
The newest member of the White Salmon clinic's medical staff is Physician's Assistant Jennifer Olson. A resident of White Salmon, she joined the practice two months ago.
Before getting her PA degree from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., Olson was enrolled in the veterinary medicine program at Oregon State University.
She eventually graduated from OSU with a bachelor of science degree in zoology and, before she found her professional calling, worked for a time as a phlebotomist.
Olson decided to become a PA--a generalist by training--"because I wanted to work with people," she said, adding, "I love being a PA. I love the flexibility it gives me" in treating patients.
Being a PA, she said, is similar to being a Family Nurse Practitioner in that "I provide a lot of the same services and patient care, and we both utilize our physician resources when we need advice."
The biggest challenge she has faced starting out in a new practice, Olson said, is not knowing the patients she sees and their medical histories.
"But as I get to know the patients better here, it will get easier," she noted, adding she especially looks forward to serving the needs of the area's Hispanic population.
Olson's office hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.
When she's not taking care of patients, Olson likely will be doing the other things she loves: cross-country skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing in the winter, and mountain biking, hiking and rock climbing in the summer.
"I like being outdoors. This is a great area for it," Olson said.