It has always been a dream of mine to travel and see the world, so when the opportunity to experience life outside Ohio presented itself, I was all in! I first learned about the Pine Ridge Reservation study away experience from Kent Salem faculty member, Lorene Martin, MSN, RN, CRNP. She spoke so passionately about the trip and people; it was hard not to be inspired.
When many people think about college trips, they think overseas or study abroad, or at least I did, but Professor Martin showed me there are so many opportunities to be exposed to different cultures right here in the United States. Seven students went on the trip this past summer. It was nice having a small group because we got to know one another and hear words of wisdom from students farther along in the program.
It was incredible being on the reservation each day because we found ourselves meeting and speaking to so many different people of the Lakota tribe. On one occasion, we were waiting for someone, and other people came over and started talking to us, asking questions about who we were and what we were doing so far from home. Once we explained that we were nursing students from Kent State University, they told us about their family’s stories, each one unique and interesting.
We had the opportunity to visit healthcare facilities on the reservation and hear members of the Lakota tribe share their experiences with healthcare. I was surprised to discover their experiences were very different than what we are used to in Ohio. Many of the hospitals on the reservation have emergency rooms that are too small to accommodate a large number of people, so many patients are redirected to Rapid City, SD, which is over an hour’s drive away. This can be problematic in the event of a very serious emergency, as every second is crucial and the longer it takes to receive treatment, the greater the risk to the patient.
We also visited a reservation nursing home built by the Tribal Council. It was extremely nice, however, we quickly learned many of the Lakota people would rather be in the comfort of their own homes with their families than at a long-term healthcare facility.
Additionally, we spent some time working with Rebel Earth Farms, a specialty crop producer, in a community garden. Rebel Earth Farms is striving to give the Lakota people independence by teaching and helping them to grow their own fruits and vegetables so that no one goes hungry or is forced to pay extremely high prices for groceries on the reservation.
Each evening I enjoyed sitting with our group to discuss that day’s events. It was nice having time to share our thoughts and feelings about our experiences; while we were together the whole day, something different resonated with each of us. It was great to hear how others interacted with members of the Lakota community.
Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed our car rides to different destinations. Professor Sarah Pierce Brown, MSN, RN, would point out different points of interest and encouraged us to share any patterns or observations out of the ordinary and we discussed as a group these observations. In essence, we completed a healthcare windshield survey of Pine Ridge Reservation. This was helpful to see parallels between their community and Ohio, but it also brought to the forefront specific differences in the ways each population lived their lives, such as the types of cars driven or the conditions of the homes. I was most surprised by the state of the homes on the reservation. It made me angry and sad to see a place in the United States with so many homes in such a state of disrepair.
My favorite part about the trip was talking with the Lakota people. I spoke with strangers and demonstrated empathy while listening to their stories of pain, struggle, and pride for their culture. This experience tested my therapeutic communication skills. I hope to apply the experiences I gained in South Dakota when I am caring for patients of different cultures. In my practice, I know I will take more time to listen to my patients’ concerns in order to make their hospital stay or visit as comfortable as possible.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I’ll never forget. I tell every student I meet about this trip and what a wonderful experience it was. Students are never going to find themselves in a situation like this where they are able to hear first-hand stories about reservation life or historical events that took place between Native Americans and settlers from overseas. I hope every student takes an opportunity to go on this trip or one like it; it was truly an experience I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life.
About Maria DiLallo
I am a sophomore in the nursing program at Kent State University Salem campus.