I recently attended the Alaska Academy of Physician Assistants’ (AKAPA) All-Alaska Medical Conference in wild and wooly Fairbanks, and again I’m reminded of what a totally, massively, undeniably great profession I’m in. I realize that that last few posts I have thrown down have been a little sappy, but can I help it if week after week I encounter episodes and events that underscore the magnificence of being a PA?

First and foremost, let’s talk about the conference. I’ve had the chance in the last couple of years to visit some of the smaller state conferences, and they’re right down my alley. From the Idaho conference in Sun Valley to the Montana conference in Billings, from Wisconsin’s shindig in Appleton to Alaska’s conference in Fairbanks, I’ve seen the best of our profession in the off-the-beaten-track places, and I’ve loved every second of the smaller conferences.

The Alaska conference takes a back seat to no one as far as quality content, strong vendor support, excellence in snacks and an off-site social event to rival the finest conference socials anywhere in the county.

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The local Fairbanks HooDoo brewery hosted conference goers for fresh and on-site brewed beers, catered appetizers, and friendly Alaska PAs willing to answer our most ill-informed questions. When are the Northern Lights? How cold does it get in December? Do they have espresso in Fairbanks? They field them all with kindness and warmth.

I was also reminded of how colorful the PA profession is. In the hour or so we were at the social, we met a PA pilot, and another who was one of the first PAs to own his own clinic. We met a very nice PA from local Dot Lake who was born and raised in Alaska, and someone who suggested my wife and I drive to the town of Fox and dine at the Turtle Club. About 10 miles out of Fairbanks, it was probably had the most good-vibes out of all of the places we’ve ever dined.

I also got to spend some time in the exhibit hall – my wife works for the National Library of Medicine, which was an exhibitor. There was a diverse bunch there, ranging from Sgt. Miller of the Air Force on our left, to Bill at a most unusual Alcoholics Anonymous booth, where he sat with a few pictures of the founder of AA and just smiled kindly throughout the breaks.

Part of the fun of the smaller conferences is getting to drive around and explore the local haunts. Fairbanks is old, historic, revitalized, run-down, diverse and just an incredibly mixed bag of pioneer living. My favorite was the closed down Elbow Room Bar, probably the best tavern name I’ve ever seen.

I found myself sad to leave Fairbanks, my new mission-driven PA friends, a wonderful place for breakfast called the Cookie Jar (get an omelette) and the world-class beer of the HooDoo brewery. Viva Fairbanks, the Golden Heart City! Viva the AKAPA, who knows how to put on a great conference at the top of the world.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, is chair of the American Academy of Physician Assistants Health Disparities Work Group, founder of Physician Assistants for Health Equity and faculty of the Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.