At home on the range

StudentSpeak is pleased to present a guest post by Karli Erickson. Karli’s husband, Anfin, is a third-year medical student who hopes to specialize in general surgery. Together they enjoy two lively daughters and an 80 lb. Goldendoodle. When she’s not practicing the (very fine) art of homemaking, Karli is an OHSU Resource RN on 12C Labor and Delivery.


“I think we should take up bird hunting,” my husband, Anfin, and 3rd year medical student says to me when I arrive in Heppner, Ore. with our two daughters. “Because we love dogs,” he adds to my furrowed brow. A few weeks into his rural rotation and that’s the big discovery he’s made.

For five weeks 3rd year medical students work on their clinical skills in smaller communities. We were in Heppner, Ore., population 1,307 according to Wikipedia. So just a touch smaller than Portland. The rotation is a great clinical opportunity for students, but logistically challenging for students with families.

For starters, timing. I was on maternity leave for the rotation. I’d make a joke about our perfect timing, but I’d only partially be kidding. When the rotation rolled around, our daughters were 2 months and 21 months. Families are welcome to accompany the student, but are responsible for their own housing.

In Heppner, the one and only housing option we found was a lodge that did long-term rentals. We will forever be grateful that the Kilkenny’s lodge was available to rent, and that the Kilkennys were both kind and accommodating. With cost and time constraints we only spent the last two weeks with our student, aka Papa, but it was worth it.

Out at our 20 acre lodge we had workable wifi and cable television, which is a television more than we ever have. Cell service, however, was limited in the area. The hospital had service; Verizon worked in the lodge; and according to our hosts, AT&T in the front yard. Alas, we mistakenly did not prepare a flow chart of protocol for communication mishaps.

See, we only had one car. If post-clinic Anfin was called into the ER, it could make for a late night. I would have had to wake the girls and pack them in the car to go fetch him. Thus, nearly every day the girls and I chose isolation and adhered to bedtimes over having a vehicle. As luck would have it, the one day we kept the car to explore Heppner’s very nice playground, disaster struck.

To be fair, the problem was more a communication error between us parents (read: always have a designated meeting spot) than the lack of cell service. But in short, Anfin trekked home along the highway fearing we were off in a ditch somewhere, while I emptied my bag of snacks and tricks on the up-past-bedtime toddler while waiting for him to leave for the day. Hint: he’d already left. His calls, texts, and voicemail registered on my phone 20 minutes after the fact. Never fear, we scooped him up alongside the highway and avoided the many crossing deer.

In addition to deer, we “had” cows. The toddler and I occupied much of our time moo-ing whilst monitoring their daily progression in the fields across the way. Peppy cows I tell you. They were lively—trotting, galloping, chasing one another. I never thought I’d envy a cow, but my post-partum body both wished for their energy and felt exhausted watching them expend it.

For all, to have food is important. For me, to have healthy(ish), delicious food is everything. Although Heppner has a grocery store, at over $5 for a loaf of sandwich bread, it wasn’t a viable option for us. Knowing how important eating is to me, I planned accordingly. Enter the world’s best gadget for rural rotations and life in general, the slow cooker.

I prepped two weeks worth of frozen meals that simply needed to be placed in the slow cooker. Chicken-sweet potato curry, done; coconut lentils, made; vegetable beef stew, see you in 8 hours. Despite all that, we still managed to takeout four large pepperoni pizzas, because no matter how tasty lentils are, they’re still lentils.

On that note, we’ve never had a more enjoyable time ordering takeout. Simply call and order—no name or phone number needed. Just, “I’d like a large pepperoni pizza” met with “See you in 15 minutes.” Kudos to Howe’s About Pizza for one of the best pizza crusts out there. After-toddler-bedtime-pizza-takeout is a parenting must-do.

And, because food really is that important to me, here’s another sentence on how I premade chocolate, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate pecan bars for the freezer as well. In retrospect, I should have also premade cookie dough to bake on-site for warm, melty, goodness, but we were supposed to living a more rustic lifestyle.

Anfin learned much, and our family experienced what may be our two favorite weeks of medical school. To accompany your student on his or her rural rotation is undoubtedly logistically and financially challenging, but well worth it if you can achieve it—at least if you’re headed to Heppner.

6 responses to “At home on the range

  1. Despite the brief miscommunication between my daughter and son-in-law (thank goodness she found you roadside, Andy), sounds like a wonderful vacation to me (at least for my girls)!

  2. Karli: thanks for this great post! I grew up in a small town about the size of Heppner; the pizza takeout scenario sounds familiar and made me laugh.

  3. What a great post, Karli. I’m glad you enjoyed my home town (and more importantly my home town pizza) as much as I do!
    -Emily MS1

  4. So glad you enjoyed your rotation experience in Heppner! I like to say “we have re-invented rural”, our small CAH is considered “Frontier”. It is always great to have students come through.

  5. Andy was one of the most awesome students I have precepted. He fit right in here and I loved meeting his family. He really should consider Family Med vs Surgery!!!

  6. Karli & I have a few things in common although we are years apart in age. I, too, am an RN specializing in maternal child health (LCCE), & my husband is a psychiatrist. We met in school on the medical school campus of Northwestern University, & both of us are from big cities.

    Who knew we’d end up in rural Roseburg, OR!
    It’s been such a great place to have raised our children and now to have some of our grandchildren (& their parents) return!

    My husband has had the pleasure of precepting medical students in psychiatry at CHI Mercy Health (formerly MMC) which has been a real joy to him. In fact, one of them had to finish an interrupted psych rotation (due to a family emergency). He hated his earlier psych experience but had to finish in Roseburg.

    Imagine our surprise when he decided to change his mind about surgery and do a psych residency. He finished & returned to Roseburg (which was his home town).

    Country life isn’t that far from the glitz everyone claims to miss, but its richness for family life cannnot be denied. In addition, many patients are waiting!

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