Air Force nurse earns confidences of native Alaskan patients
By Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon , Defense Media Activity - San Antonio
/ Published April 15, 2010
NOORVIK, Alaska -- A joint medical team recently deployed to a remote village in northern Alaska where earning trust is often the first step to getting patients through the door.
According to Maj. Emily Cerreta, a traditional reservist assigned to the 433rd Airlift Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, the fact that she is a woman nurse practitioner does have an impact on the care she is able to provide her Noorvik, Alaska, patients.
"Because I'm a woman, many of the female villagers are much more willing to come in for well-woman exams," said Major Cerreta, a civilian nurse practitioner for a family practice. "Some of the female villagers, especially young mothers, are also more open during their children's well-baby checkups as well."
Deployed to Alaska as part of Operation Arctic Care, a joint medial readiness training exercise, Major Cerreta works as part of a mixed team of medical professionals, from surgeons to veterinarians, deployed to more than a dozen villages in the region. In Noorvik, her team of dental, medical and pharmacy Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors have taken up practice in a clinic normally staffed by villagers trained in only the basics of medicine. The joint military team provides an opportunity for the small community to get caught up on preventative medical needs.
"Much of what we've done is preventative medicine," said the major. "We went to the school and performed physicals. I see a lot of women for well-woman exams, as well as well-baby exams."
The exercise has caused excitement in the close-knit community for some time. When the word got out that the military was bringing doctors into Noorvik it caused a stir in the village, which is only accessible by air or snow machine for much of the winter.
"The military was here a few years ago and everyone looks forward when they come back," said Laura Ballot, a village resident whose son Hikerr Snyder was given his two-year well-baby check-up by Major Cerrera. "It's needed a lot, especially in the winter."
During this visit Hikerr was given a full-exam and vaccinated against common childhood diseases. However, the clinic was out of the H1N1 flu vaccine and it had to be ordered from a larger town in time for Major Cerreta to administer it to the child.
"The villagers are all very interested in their health despite being in a remote location like this," she said. "This has been the most rewarding annual tour I've been able to do yet. I get to train while helping people."
That help likely will be remembered. Today a 12-year-old girl put a note in Major Cerreta's pocket apologizing for having to leave with her family to Anchorage and being gone when the team leaves. Whether being a woman, a nurse or a ear to listen, Major Cerreta will leave a lasting memory on Noorvik, just as it will on her.