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A doctor’s travels: Africa to Alaska


Daily News Staff Writer

From high-tech in Pittsburgh to a low-tech in Malawi, Africa, Dr. Deborah Landis-Lewis’ medical experience runs the gamut. For the newest OB-GYN at Ketchikan Medical Center, Ketchikan is "sort of the middle."

Landis-Lewis started working at the local hospital on Oct. 1. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 2007, and spent the better part of the last decade studying and working there.

"This is my first real job outside of academics," Landis-Lewis said. Her career has included multiple trips to Africa with her husband.

"We’ve both spent together a lot of time in southern Africa. We lived there for a year in 2005, and I worked in a maternity hospital there," Landis-Lewis said. Several of her patients there had either HIV or AIDS, she said.

"I’m definitely interested in global women’s health," she said.

Landis-Lewis didn’t let motherhood — she has a 6-year-old son and a 4-month-old daughter — get in the way of travels. Her son has been to Africa with her four times.

"We wanted to be able to keep traveling all together as a family," she said.

Now their travels have brought them to Alaska. Her first impression of Ketchikan?

"Rainy," she said. However, she added, "Pittsburgh’s not really known for its sunny weather," so the rain was fine.

Landis-Lewis said that what she enjoyed about her practice in Ketchikan was that it allowed for more "continuity of care" than she could provide in Pittsburgh.

"There I was at a really big hospital with every sub-specialty imaginable," she said. That meant she would see patients only long enough to refer them to the relevant specialist. Here, she has the ability to get to know her patients. And there are plenty of them.

Though she said her patient load is "sort of hit-or-miss," Landis-Lewis said she probably averages close to 15 patients a day. As the hospital’s only permanent part-time OB doctor, one challenge has been balancing her work load with her schedule.

"It’s a juggling act," she said. She added that the hospital hopes to bring in another two part-timers, and the three would then move into a month-on, month-off call rotation. Until then, Landis-Lewis said it will be tricky to manage her work and home life.

That’s because her husband is in Malawi, pursuing a doctorate in medical informatics — a blend of information science, computer science and health care. That means Landis-Lewis has had get creative with her child-care options.

Her mother came to visit when they first moved up, followed by a college friend who had always wanted to see Alaska. Landis-Lewis said it’s difficult to find childcare that works for the long, and late, hours a doctor can be required to work.

She said what keeps her going is her passion for medicine and her family. When Landis-Lewis finds the time for it, yoga and running help, too, she said. She admitted she hadn’t done much of either lately, though. She and her family also have tried to do as much hiking and fishing as they can. Landis-Lewis said she hopes to see more of Alaska as well.

"We would really like to take a ferry up" the Inside Passage, she said. Landis-Lewis said she hoped to take the entire family on another trip to Malawi in February, also.