Posted on Apr 21, 2022

USF Pain Management Fellow hopes to provide pain management in rural and minority communities

USF Pain Management Fellow hopes to provide pain management in rural and minority communities

Samantha Pykkonen, APRN, CRNA, became increasingly unhappy with her career over the years. She worked in the intensive care unit as a registered nurse for about six years before deciding to get her master’s degree in Nurse Anesthesia.

After graduating in 2008, she felt torn. She loved being a nurse anesthetist, but something was missing. She pursued a career in nursing because she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, but she wasn’t enjoying her workplace and Pykkonen found herself wondering how she could directly give back to her native community.

Pykkonen is enrolled in Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Native American tribe in Petoskey, Michigan, but most of her family is living near or on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota.

In 2019 and 2020, drug overdose death rates were highest among non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native people, according to the CDC.

“This is an issue in my own home reservation and addiction issues cripple our people,” Pykkonen explained.

Despite the data and evident need for change, Indian Health Services near Pykkonen’s community in Minnesota and Wisconsin did not offer help for pain treatment. At that moment, Pykkonen knew she wanted to provide alternative options and interventions to help people manage their pain.

“I’d like to be a part of solving the problem of the opioid epidemic and help my patients gain an acceptable quality of life while living with pain,” she said. When she learned nurse anesthetists can do non-surgical pain management, she left her job and became an independent-working CRNA. That’s when she discovered USF and the Advanced Pain Management Fellowship offered by the College of Nursing.

Her passion was restored after her first conversation with Professor and Pain Management Concentration Director, Dr. John Maye.

Pykkonen described her conversation with him as a “breath of fresh air” that helped her take this leap. “Dr. Maye is clearly passionate about what he is doing and has fully supported my dream of instilling pain management programs throughout Indian Health Services across the U.S.”

She officially started the fellowship in August 2021. Now, she says she is gaining an incredible amount of knowledge about the anatomy, physiology and biopsychosocial aspects of pain. Her tentative fellowship completion date is August 2022. She hopes by then she will have the necessary skills to be a diverse practitioner that can help with a variety of pain conditions, acute and chronic.

“My goal is to provide pain management for Indian Health Services starting with the Fond du Lac Reservation then to the larger Bemidji area,” she explained. The Bemidji Area provides service and support to 34 federally recognized tribes and four urban Indian Health programs located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. “My goal is to use Fond du Lac Reservation as a template to help set this program up in this region, with the larger goal of encompassing IHS across the United States.”

Pykkonen hopes to improve access to Indian Health Services and pain management throughout nearby communities, one step at a time. She said she is looking forward to working with each patient individually, to build a plan specific based on their needs and ultimately, get them to a place of acceptable pain relief to improve their quality of life.

“Early access to controlling pain in an individual can have positive impacts on the rest of their lives and helps decrease or eliminate chronic pain issues in the future.”

Story by Cassidy Delamarter