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Nurses never cease to demonstrate how in tune they are with unique needs, concerns and behaviors—from a single, complex patient to an entire community of people. Compassionate and aware, nurses bypass countless obstacles to establish trust in a situation or an environment where it’s far from a common commodity.
In a recent article from The Huffington Post, one nurse’s mission to do just that in a rural pocket of South Dakota is both celebrated and explored:
A spaghetti dinner with people in prairie dress and a church service in German is all in a day’s work for Kerri Lutjens.
The 33-year-old nurse, who doesn’t speak German, has spent the past few years gaining the trust of several communities of Hutterites, a deeply religious people with ancestral ties to the Amish who live in insular farming communities in the Plains, Upper Midwest and Canada.
Of course, though her own lifestyle remains distinct, Lutjens entered this provincial world with a purpose. Since 2013, she has been hard at work carving out a niche for regular healthcare among a string of communities that were often more inclined to go without:
Although she provides a broad range of care to the eight South Dakota Hutterite colonies she serves, Lutjens has paid particular attention to vaccinating children in these communities and preventing outbreaks like one in Ohio last year in which 383 people, most of them unvaccinated Amish, got the measles.
And her efforts have been far from fruitless:
In the first seven colonies that welcomed Lutjens, the combined rate of children with up-to-date vaccinations has gone from about 13 percent since she started administering vaccines in 2013 to well over 90 percent today. Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently lauded Lutjens’ vaccination success, noting the cultural sensitivity she has shown along the way.
Like the Amish, the Hutterites aren’t averse to vaccinations, but because they live in remote areas and go into town infrequently, getting their children vaccinated hasn’t been routine.
The community, in fact, tends to embrace technology, from cell phones to modern medicine. The key to encouraging the community members to be proactive about their health, Lutjens realized, was reaching them at home through a steady application of patience and sensitivity:
Hoping to establish ties with an eighth colony, she attended a communal dinner this spring to explain what she could offer to residents. She then joined them for their nightly church service in German, which is the primary language in many colonies and which many Hutterites learn before learning English.
“That’s what makes it work,” she said. “It’s a very personable relationship. Each person has a name, and you try to figure that out, and you try to figure out the connections between the colonies.”
As for the operation itself, Lutjens’ marked success has resulted in what is no doubt a major undertaking—yet another demonstration of a nurse’s profound scope.
Each day, Lutjens and a physician’s assistant set up shop in one of eight separate communities:
At the Tschetter Colony, a remote outpost of single-story homes and communal buildings surrounded by acres of farmland about 70 miles southwest of Sioux Falls, Lutjens’ makeshift clinic is housed in an empty room, sandwiched between the colony’s church and usual dining hall. Lutjens uses the colony’s speaker system here to let patients know she has arrived and is seeing patients; she’ll also use a phone in the nearby church to call families and ask them to come in.
Lutjens treats hundreds of patients in the eight colonies, and she greets each with a warm familiarity.
Finally, as unorthodox as Lutjens’ work may be, it’s clearly appreciated. Below, the article highlights one community member’s candid response to the care she provides.
“Like, today, I wouldn’t have seen anybody. I would have pushed it off five years if I had to go see somebody, but if I can go see her—I will,” said Decker, who farms and keeps honeybees.
Nurses—how have you overcome cultural, religious or personal barriers to provide care throughout the course of your career? Tell us about your own experiences in the comments section below!