July 15, 2020
Dr. Sandra Dunbrasky has given steadfast service to rural practice, primary care management, kids with special health care needs, and disaster relief. She reflected on her life and career with OPS Membership Manager Cheryl Matushak.
Growing up in Payette, Idaho, Sandy Dunbrasky knew she wanted to be a doctor in fifth grade. Since her parents had little more than elementary school educations, that dream was unlikely. They hoped their children would graduate from high school and after achieving that, Sandy married and settled in eastern Oregon.
As soon as her own children started school, Sandy studied to become an R.N. After working for two years she told her husband, “I still want to be a doctor.” She went back to school and completed her pre-med requirements, applied to OHSU, and was accepted. It was important to Sandy that she not disrupt the stable life her family had built, so she rented a studio apartment in Portland during the week. Every Friday she headed east to mile post 376 to be there for her children’s high school activities, and her weekend job as a nurse. Once Sandy finished her studies and started rotations, it was the family who made the weekend commute to Portland to join her. Dr. Dunbrasky was 44 when she finished her pediatric residency.
Back in Ontario, one of the two pediatricians in town had just retired, making it a perfect time for Dr. Dunbrasky to start and grow a practice. In 2000 she participated in an AAP Medical Home Pilot Study and in 2004 Treasure Valley Pediatric Clinic added mental health counselors. Sandy believes this has been one of the key factors for opening doors to help for so many people. The warm handoff provided by seeing someone in the same facility removes the stigma of going to a separate building for mental health, which can be a challenge in a small community.
One of the driving forces in Dr. Dunbrasky’s life has been that if she sees a need, she addresses that need. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks led her to complete the year-long application process to join the National Disaster Medical Assistance Team. She has been called to serve on field teams for Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, Rita, and Irma, and Superstorm Sandy, among others.
In 2017, Dr. Dunbrasky sold her practice after 23 years in business. Her main priority was to ensure that the work she put into establishing care coordination would continue, and it has with three pediatricians and seven physician assistants or nurse practitioners. Sandy is happy to be working fewer than 80 hours a week and spending more time with her patients!
As she reflected on her career as a pediatrician in a rural setting, Dr. Dunbrasky talked about the challenges of the scarcity of resources. There are not enough specialists, and referrals often expire before a patient can be seen. However, she feels the benefits are far greater in the wide array of patients one sees. As Sandy likes to say, “If you like medicine and it isn’t just a job to you, there is no better place to put all of your education to use.”