Series: Working past retirement in Alaska
Interview with Bill Weiss
October 1, 2023 | View PDF
This is the third in a series of interviews with Alaskans who have continued to work beyond the usual age of retirement. In this article, Bill Weiss, Physician Assistant (a mid-level health care provider), talks about living and working in Alaska and in other parts of the world. It's complicated.
When and why did you come to Alaska?
I originally came to Alaska in 1986 or 1987 after I had worked in Saudi Arabia. I came to Alaska to visit my brother [the interviewer is the brother] who had been living in Alaska. At that time, I was a nurse. I asked him where would be the best place for me to look for a job in Alaska. He said Homer, so I went to Homer and almost immediately got hired to work in their hospital. That's what kept me in Alaska. Since that time, I have come and gone from Alaska. I left for many years to live on the island of Saipan, but I still very much love coming back to Alaska.
Tell us some of your work history highlights.
In 1975, I graduated from UCLA School of Nursing and worked in New Mexico. I got a job working in the intensive care unit, and then eventually in an emergency room, [which is the type of setting] where I have often worked since then. In 1994 I graduated from the University of Washington Physician Assistant program, and I've been functioning as a PA ever since.
After I became a PA, I worked on the islands of Saipan and Guam, and the islands of Tinian and Rota. Then I worked in Afghanistan and Iraq for several years, and then went up to Alaska via several recruiters who asked me do various jobs. So I started bouncing around Alaska for several years working as a locum [temporary health care provider] in various villages and smaller towns.
Then I got a job working on the island of Shemya, which is out at the end of the Aleutian Islands, on a military base there. I did that for about four years. In the interim, I ended up working locum in, among other places, Skagway. I found that I really enjoyed Skagway. They called me back several times. I sort of retired from work as I was getting into my 70s, but they continued to call me back when they had staffing problems. I ended up finally going with a contract for three months on and three months off. So basically, a very long commute traveling between the island of Saipan in the Western Pacific, and Skagway in Southeast Alaska.
How long does that trip take?
It takes anywhere between 30 and 40 hours, depending upon which way we're going, the layovers, the weather, etc.
We're taping this interview in Anchorage on Aug. 16, 2023, during your brief stopover. Are you coming or going?
I am on my way to Skagway where, because they have a staffing shortage, they've asked me to come back earlier than my contract would have been. Normally the contract is for three months on, three months off. This time I'm going to be coming back early and spend about four and a half months there.
How old are you now?
I am 74-a "young" 74.
Did you think about retirement in the past, or try retirement?
I retired after I was working as a PA in Shemya. I decided to retire just because I was getting older. Work gets a little harder, and doing these 35-hour trips between Saipan and Alaska becomes more challenging. I was not working for probably eight or nine months. And then I got called to come back to Skagway to work, and they had asked me to stay for quite a while that time and then they called me back several more times and then offered me a contract.
You were retired for eight or nine months, and they called you back to work. You could have said, "No, I don't want to. I love being retired." But apparently that isn't what you said.
Correct. Even though I live on a beautiful tropical island, I found that I was bored. There's not much of a social life there. As you get older, lying on the beach all day isn't as much fun as it is when you're younger. Even though it's a beautiful place, our house is lovely, we have an incredible view of the ocean, we are right next to the jungle-I was bored. I wasn't using my brain and there was no job on Saipan that was of interest to me. I wasn't feeling that I was being fruitful or doing worthwhile things.
I am afraid we have run out of time. Pleasant travel on the last leg of your journey to Skagway.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.