Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center will be welcoming a pediatrician onto its staff for the first time, offering more consistent care for patients from birth to adulthood.
Kristen Symansky, D.O., who moved to Kodiak in October, will join the hospital staff and begin seeing patients this month.
This will be her first position after completing residency in New Jersey. She said her recent residency experience is a benefit because she has a solid understanding of different specialists that children under her care may need to see.
“I had a really good network with specialists back in New Jersey, and I will come to have that network in Anchorage over time,” she said. “I am pretty new as a pediatrician, but all of my training since medical school has focused on children.”
In her new role, she hopes to help “tie the pieces together.”
“I think being a general pediatrician is going to bring more of a focus on kids because I don’t have to take the time to stay up-to-date on adult illnesses and medications. I can just focus on all the new up-and-coming things for kids,” she said. “Oftentimes families get a diagnosis that’s a little bit more complicated. You’re sent to all these different specialists. Hopefully, I’ll be a ‘medical home’ for the patients that need that extra care.”
Until now, PKIMC has hosted two pediatric specialists once a month, who provide care to Kodiak children. Dr. Jeff Brand and Dr. John Tappel, who practice at LaRouche Pediatrics in Anchorage, will continue to make regular visits to Kodiak in the coming months, as Symansky takes on a full caseload. She will work four days a week, a significant increase in childcare from the once-a-month visits made by Brand and Tappel.
“Having a pediatrician come here once a month, that’s a great opportunity for the community to have some of the resources, but there’s still a lot more care we could give to the community,” she said. “Some of my interests are focusing on the development and nutrition of kids, making sure we’re focusing on their strengths, rather than just focusing on them when they’re sick.”
The monthly specialist visits allowed the hospital to provide “very specific pediatric care for things that went beyond the sniffles,” said Carlie Franz, a communications specialist with Providence. By hiring a resident pediatrician, Providence hopes to provide Kodiak families with “peace of mind for things that are beyond the day-to-day.”
Symansky said she will provide primary care and accept referrals from other family practitioners for more specialized care. She will be able to help some families avoid frequent travel to Anchorage by serving as a bridge between Anchorage-based specialists and Kodiak-based care. Working at Providence, she will be able to admit kids to the hospital if necessary and work with the OB/GYN physician at the hospital when babies need further care.
“I don’t have to just be in the office. I can be where I’m needed,” she said.
In addition to young children, Symansky said she is also excited about working with adolescents.
“It’s almost like a forgotten population,” she said. “They’re going through a lot. It’s a lot of change that people don’t necessarily think about.”
Symansky grew up in New Hampshire and attended medical school in Maine. “So the colder snowy climate is no different for me,” she said.
“It’s definitely a change, having less of an ability to get in my car and drive somewhere,” she said. “But we’ve gotten to do a lot of different hikes and see ‘The Nutcracker’ … It’s been a change coming here, but it’s been overall welcome change. I’m not scared away by the snow.”
Symansky’s husband is a Coast Guard helicopter pilot stationed in Base Kodiak. She said they will likely leave the island in three years, when her husband receives his new posting. But she said the future departure is not stopping her from embracing her role in the community.
“I’m living here. There’s no pediatrician on the island. It’s like God’s way of saying, ‘Come on, this is what you’re meant to do,’” she said.