KYLE, S.D. — It’s 7 a.m. July 16 at the Lakota Prairie Ranch.
Western nursing students Melissa Wallace and Lydia Russell are ready to begin their day traveling to the Wanblee Clinic at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
They’ve been told in a meeting prior that it takes 45 minutes to get to their destination, but to them, it seems much longer.
“I was surprised at how rural the clinic was,” said Wallace. “(They) hold meetings to explain the history, but knowing you’ll be making a 45-minute trip every morning from the motel to the clinic is different when you actually experience it.”
Once at the clinic, Wallace and Russell work as a team with a practitioner, physical therapist, and other instructors, taking appointments for health examinations, physical therapy sessions, and women’s health appointments.
“It was an excellent reminder of how important everyone is on the healthcare team,” said Wallace.
Western’s nursing program works with Gundersen Global Partners to provide nursing student volunteers in under-resourced communities like Pine Ridge. The organization, founded in 2008 and a part of Gundersen Health System’s Medical Foundation, works to provide health care and education support in Nicaragua, Ethiopia, as well as South Dakota and the Coulee Region.
According to statistics, the Pine Ridge Reservation has the lowest life expectancy and lowest per capita income of anywhere in the country. The rural location of the reservation has often played a big role in health care issues as well.
“There was an emergency situation that shut down the clinic, because everyone was working with one patient,” said Wallace. “The team was able to stabilize the patient, but it took hours for them to get from the clinic to the hospital for advanced care because of the logistics of being in such a rural clinic.”
Nursing instructor Daniel Lundtvedt, who accompanied Russell and Wallace on the trip, says the volunteer work is a unique experience, especially for nursing students. The culture and location of the patients can play a big role in how providers treat patients differently depending on these factors.
“I think that it is important for students at a technical college to be able to experience nursing outside the traditional setting and in a completely different area of the country,” said Lundtvedt. “Nurses need to adapt to the community and meet the needs of their patients.”
“As a nurse, it’s critical to meet your patients where they are with the resources they have to respect their culture practices,” said Wallace. “This trip was a great experience for learning how the patients influence their own care in that way.”
The experience is already influencing the careers of those who made the trip.
“I hope to work as a missionary nurse, or a nurse volunteer abroad,” said Russell. “I would have the opportunity to deliver emergency care to people affected by conflict, epidemics, or limited access to medical care all over the world.”
This was only the second time Western’s nursing students have traveled to Pine Ridge. They plan to send more students to South Dakota later this fall.