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Face of Defense: Nurse Earns Patients’ Confidence

By Air Force Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon
Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

NOORVIK, Alaska, April 21, 2010 – A joint medical team recently deployed to a remote village in northern Alaska, where earning trust often is the first step to getting patients through the door.

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Air Force Maj. Emily Cerreta consults Laura Ballot, mother of 23-month-old Hikerr Snyder, during his well-baby checkup April 14, 2010, in Noorvik, Alaska. Cerreta is a family nurse practitioner from the 433rd Airlift Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and is in Alaska for Operation Arctic Care, a joint medical training exercise. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Maj. Emily Cerreta, a reservist assigned to the 433rd Airlift Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, was able to earn that trust from her patients here.

"Because I'm a woman, many of the female villagers are much more willing to come in for well-woman exams," said Cerreta, a nurse practitioner. "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, 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 only in the basics of medicine.

The joint military team provides an opportunity for the small community to get caught up on preventive medical needs.

"Much of what we've done is preventive medicine," Cerreta said. "We went to the school and performed physicals. I see a lot of women for well-woman exams, as well as well-baby exams."

When the word got out that the military was bringing doctors into Noorvik, it caused a stir in the village, which is accessible only by air or snowmobile 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, got his two-year well-baby check-up from Cerreta. "It's needed a lot, especially in the winter."

Hikerr got a full exam and was 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 Cerreta to administer it to the child.

"The villagers are all very interested in their health despite being in a remote location like this," the major said. "This has been the most rewarding annual tour I've been able to do yet. I get to train while helping people."

The visit has made a lasting impact on the village – in fact, a 12-year-old girl put a note in Cerreta's pocket, apologizing for having to leave with her family to Anchorage and being unable to be around when the team leaves.


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