PVHC oncologist dedicated to rural care

Posted 7/2/20

Dr. Carletta Collins, Powell Valley Healthcare oncologist and hematologist, has a pleasant manner about her. Late for an interview because she was with a patient, she apologizes more than once. …

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PVHC oncologist dedicated to rural care

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Dr. Carletta Collins, Powell Valley Healthcare oncologist and hematologist, has a pleasant manner about her. Late for an interview because she was with a patient, she apologizes more than once.

Collins began seeing patients at PVHC in March. She is originally from Alabama and previously worked at Cody Regional Health for 5 1/2 years. Because she grew up in a rural area, Collins said she’s dedicated to her patients, even when it means more “leg work” to get them what they need.

“Some of the physicians that were there [in rural Alabama], they were there because they had to be and didn’t necessarily care about the community. I wanted to change that,” she said.

She said her interest in medicine started at a young age. When she was about 5 years old, her mother, who had diabetes, was also pregnant. They were poor and didn’t have any insurance.

“I just remember her being so sick, and I’d bring her washcloths to put on her head or whatever I could do to make her feel better,” Collins said. “Then she went to the doctor and, in my little mind, she just instantly got better.”

Another event in her early years helped set Collins on a path to becoming a doctor: When she was 12, her grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“He was my best friend in the entire world,” she recalled.

Even though she was still a child, her grandfather’s oncologist took the time to really explain things so Collins could understand what was happening to her grandfather. Before he passed away, he asked her to promise to do something to help people with illnesses like he had.

“It was never really a question of what to do. I just had to get there,” she said.

Collins said there is a lot of overlap between blood and cancer disorders, such as with leukemia and multiple myeloma. There is also overlap in knowledge when it comes to treatments involving chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy.

“It’s good to have both hats,” Collins said.

PVHC’s screening capabilities are expanding. The organization can now perform breast MRIs — “Just a year ago, people were having to drive to Billings,” Collins said — and will soon have a 3D mammography machine.

The oncologist recommends people get screened regularly, when a person is within the right age for a particular screen. This includes skin cancer screenings, prostate screens (which primary care doctors can usually do) and colonoscopies. Women with a family history of breast cancer should also get screened, Collins advised.

“I think the biggest message is that everything can be done here now [at PVHC],” she said.

There are a couple risks she said should be avoided, the biggest being smoking, which causes a range of cancers throughout the body.

Collins said farmers should be aware of the risk of skin cancers, such as melanoma, that can result from working outdoors under the sun’s radiation.

She said farmers can reduce their risk by wearing hats, long sleeve shirts, and sunscreen of at least SPF 40.

“If they wear caps, they need to put sunscreen on their ears,” she recommended.

Collins said she’s looking forward to when the infusion center at PVHC can begin offering chemotherapy. This will allow people who need chemotherapy to get it in Powell; currently, they must travel to Billings, Cody or Lovell. For a treatment that can be quite taxing on the patient, it can be helpful to not make the drive up there anymore.

It’s going to take some time before PVHC can offer chemotherapy. There is a stringent certification the pharmacy must pass before it can prepare the medicines.

Collins said PVHC’s services are extensive for a critical access hospital in a rural territory, and they continue to expand. With her commitment to quality rural care, she said PVHC is a great fit for her.

“It’s really important to me to give people good care, and to get that care here,” Collins said. “I don’t want them to have to go someplace else for it.”

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