PUBLISHED: 4:08 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Juneau woman pursues dream of medical career
Around the age of seven, Juneau local Jessica Arasmith began saying she wanted to be a doctor. Now at the age of 26, she's making headway while working on her residency at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital in Loma Linda, Calif.

"My mom is a nurse, so I was raised around the medical field spending nights in the hospital, and always hanging around Valley Medical. I had early exposure to the health care field," she said.

With a bright smile and warm heart, her mother Susan Arasmith, describes Jessica as a focused, dedicated and fun-loving young woman.

Courtesy photo
  Juneau local Jessica Arasmith worked at the Good Shepard Hospital, one of the few hospitals, in Siteki, Swaziland, which has the world's highest rates of HIV and tuberculosis, in 2007 for a college pediatric elective.
Equipped with a hefty resume, Arasmith graduated from JDHS, received her B.A. at Central Washington University, her M.D. at University of Washington School of Medicine and even a certified EMT volunteer for Kittitas County Search and Rescue.

As a community volunteer, and world traveler, Arasmith has gained a lot of intuitive experience along the way.

In 2007, for a pediatric elective, she worked at the Good Shepard Hospital, one of the few hospitals, in Siteki, Swaziland, which has the world's highest rates of HIV and tuberculosis.

The community is rural with approximately 5000 people living in the city, she said.

Arasmith worked with the pediatric population, caring for preterm infants to infants with HIV or other infections, but also saw adults when needed. After visiting the hospitalized she went to clinic, and saw as many as 30 patients an hour, she said.

"The patients who wanted to be seen would all show up first thing in the morning, get a number and a color based on problem, and then sit crammed in a crowded hot waiting room on hard wooden benches waiting to be seen," she said. "It was like your worst Department of Motor Vehicles trip-only 10 times worse."

Hospitalized children were there for the majority of HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, dehydration, or trauma such as fractures and snakebites.

She said during home visits, the "homes" were made of mud and sticks, with no beds, running water or electricity.

"Poverty was pervasive and yet people were surviving in spite of some truly desperate situations," she said.

"It was an awesome experience. The people were so grateful for the care; it was eye opening to the conditions people actually survived in, and it was inspiring to see the great strides being made with HIV treatments with the opening of AIDS clinics and medications supplied by the World Health Organization," Arasmith said.

At Loma Linda, she is working toward a career in pediatrics and will finish her residency in June 2010. As an avid lover of soccer and long-time youth soccer coach in high school, college and medical school, Arasmith said she's considering pursuing further training in sports medicine after residency, so she can "help get everyone back into the game again."

Arasmith loves children, and said, "it is so much fun working with kids because no matter how sick they are they will still smile, and they have such positive attitudes."

"I also enjoy the teamwork with their families-when you become part of a child's life there is so much room for positive influence," she said.

"I think I am drawn to pediatrics, because for me all the influences I had as a child were so important to me. I want to give back to the children in the community I will be living in."

"She is very level-headed, grounded and responsible but also has a great sense of humor and playful side to her personality," said family friend Angie Parker. "When I am around Jessica, she has an ability to make everyone feel comfortable, calm and at ease. She has the ability to focus not only on what the problems are but how to resolve them in a very confident and relaxing style. She has always had a love and compassion for children for as long as I can remember and has great interaction and patience with them.

Her mother, Susan, of Palmer, is grateful for the influences of Juneau people and states the community as "the village that raised this doctor."

"The importance of these individuals that took the extra time and effort to give of themselves-their positive influence will be carried on," Susan said.

Influences range from teachers, coaches, neighbors, family, doctors, supervisors and much more.

"Growing up I felt very connected to the community and as though everyone I came across has somehow influenced me to make the choices I have. There are so many people, I can't even begin to name them all, but I credit the community for their encouragement and giving me the opportunities I've had," Arasmith said.

At Loma Linda, she is caring for patients with heart transplants to patients with everyday viral illness.

"I have only spent a few months at Loma Linda and so far it has been a tremendously positive experience. The teaching is great here from both the pediatricians as well as the patients," she said.

She hopes to return to Alaska, working as a pediatrician, coaching soccer teams, and enjoying the great outdoors and crisp clean air (as well as a little rain) that she's missing these past few years.

"Juneau is still home (but) it will depend on what I end up specializing in as to where I will be needed most, but as long as there are children present I haven't written any location off," Arasmith said.

"As a young child it was noted that Jessica had surprisingly sophisticated insight with kids. This intuition never left, nor her sense of play, and working with kids is where Jessica shines. It's very exciting to have her become part of the medical world working with our kids and families," Susan said.