Dr. Jillian Woodruff, a board-certified gynecologic surgeon and hormone specialist, didn’t know what to expect when she and her family decided to move from Virginia to Alaska. She wasn’t much of an outdoorsy person, and Alaska was never on her bucket list — it wasn’t even a destination she’d considered for a visit. She also wondered what a lot of people do: “Are there Black people there?” After years of moving around and working for medical practices, she and her husband, who is also a physician, knew they wanted to quiet their extremely busy life. “We were looking for a lifestyle change,” Dr. Jill said. “We wanted to spend more time in the community and with our family.”
They connected with a physician already working in Alaska who invited them for a visit. Dr. Jill was pleasantly surprised not only by the state’s beauty, comfortable pace, and welcoming people, but also its diversity. “When we came, we found that there were many Black people in many different venues and many different walks of life. I was even more surprised by the depth of diverse people in Alaska,” Dr. Jill said. “That’s what I really love.”
She and her family were welcome additions to Alaska’s health care field, too. There are few relationships more intimate than the one between a patient and a doctor, especially a women’s health specialist. Finding physicians who understand not only a person’s body but also their lifestyle can be a critical factor in crafting a health plan. It’s especially important for people who come from backgrounds where a historical mistrust of the medical system creates a barrier to care. Black women, and other women of color, in particular may be wary. Part of Dr. Jill’s work as an obstetrician and gynecologist is to help break down that barrier.
“There is a connection that I have with patients that look like me or may have been marginalized,” Dr. Jill said. “I feel like I’m better able to connect with them and make them feel more trust.” That’s not just in relation to being Black in Alaska. Dr. Jill speaks four languages, including American Sign Language, making her adept at connecting with individuals, inside and out of her health care practice.
Living in Alaska for the past eight years, Dr. Jill has become a visible and active member of the community including hosting “Line One”, a radio program for Alaska Public Media discussing health-related topics and concerns that can impact us all. She and her husband make a point to learn a new outdoor activity each year to enjoy with their young kids. She’s also an avid winter runner and cross-country skier now, things that a past-Jill from Virginia might’ve never thought to do.
Today, when talking with people who are unfamiliar with Alaska, she combats those same questions and stereotypes that she once held. “I’m always excited to educate people on what Alaska is, its rich history, and the culture of the people here.” Dr. Jill said. “If you’re curious about Alaska and you’re a person of color, you should just come. There’s something here for everyone.”