- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. (AP) - Many throughout the Lake Region have gotten to know Annie Gerhardt through her work as a nurse practitioner at Altru Clinic-Lake Region.

Now, half a world away in the west African nation of Ghana, the people there are getting to know her, too, as she spends a month there working with their doctors and nurses in a medical readiness training exercise. The mission is a collaboration effort of US Army Africa, Brooke Army Medical Center, North Dakota National Guard, and the Ghanaian Government.

The Devils Lake Journal (https://bit.ly/2lNgThN ) reports that Gerhardt is a captain in the North Dakota National Guard and finds herself in Accra, the capital city of Ghana where they call her “Doctor Annie.”

She arrived there with two North Dakota National Guard Medics and 12 Regular Army Medical Soldiers from Brooke Army Medical Center on Feb. 5. They planned to return to North Dakota after working with the medical and military personnel serving the people who come in to the emergency room at the 37th Military Hospital with various injuries and needs.

“It’s an austere environment to be working in,” Gerhardt says.

“You learn to be innovative as you work alongside others in this military setting. We are working together for good outcomes for the patients we see,” Gerhardt said.

She is embedded in the E.R., but in Ghana people have to purchase what they need before seeking medical care, therefore medical professionals often have to take into consideration what a patient or their family can afford before they treat them. They bring with them their own medications, sutures, materials for making splints, etc., when seeking care.

Often they opt to undergo medical procedures without pain medication simply because they might not be able to afford it.

Gerhardt said that they have to rely on other means to diagnose and treat patients because there’s not the option of sending them next door for a CT scan, or the like, as they would have in a U.S. facility.

She said that she finds they are learning as much from the people of Ghana as they are teaching them.

Her first day on site, she made rounds with a neurosurgeon who asked for her help closing a wound a patient received when a backhoe fell on him. She is able to do things in Ghana that a general surgeon would do here in the states.

“I don’t give orders until after reviewing the patient case with the doctors and verifying it is a possible and affordable treatment plan,” she said, adding that she feels her training, professionalism and expertise has been appreciated.

This valuable training and experience will benefit Gerhardt when and if she is deployed to a part of the world where nurses and physicians work as a team in a war-torn country, for example.

“You have to get ‘back to basics’ of patient care without the luxuries you’re used to,” she explained.

A patient who needed a splint, for example, received one that Gerhardt and her team of medical providers fashioned from cardboard, gauze and tape. She says she is learning a lot and she also has the opportunity to teach others while in Ghana.

“We’re learning from each other.”

This is a world class experience, according to Gerhardt. When she was commissioned into the military it was to help others, to be of service to her country, the National Guard and to those in need, she said. Here in Ghana she is doing just that. “It is a great adventure!” she adds.

They work full days and full schedules in 80 to 90 degree temperatures, sometimes without the benefit of air conditioning and occasionally without electricity.

She said they recently had to finish a procedure by flashlight, but they were able to help the patient and that was the important thing.

They’re up at 5:30 a.m. for physical training, breakfast at 7 a.m., and don’t forget your malaria pills!

They work straight through, a full shift, in the military hospital including meetings with administrators from Ghana.

The weekends are used to debrief and rest up, they have little time for sightseeing, although Gerhardt says that Ghana is a colorful, beautiful country filled with friendly, warm people.

For a number of years, Ghana has partnered with the North Dakota Army National Guard at Camp Gilbert C. Grafton sending their soldiers here to the Regional Training Facility for education and receiving North Dakota soldiers to their country, too, for education and training.

She says that there is a lot of poverty in Ghana. The people are strong, even stoic. They work hard and want to be progressive. Their news reports are filled with news from the U.S. They very much follow what’s happening in America.

“We are so blessed in our country,” Gerhardt said, admitting that we, as Americans, take a lot for granted.

The experiences and training Gerhardt is getting in Africa will benefit her career in the Army National Guard and help with disaster preparedness in our own communities.

Gerhardt wanted to add her thanks to everyone who has made this experience, this “adventure,” possible. She says her husband and family are coping without her by reading daily letters she provided for her 8-year-old when she knew she would be gone for a while.

She is grateful for the hospital in Devils Lake that generously provided her with scrubs she would need to wear in Ghana, her colleagues at Altru Clinic who have stepped up and covered for her while she’s gone. She also wanted to acknowledge her patients here in the Lake Region who have been gracious and allowed her to be gone, and finally, to thank the people she has worked with in Ghana who have been supportive and welcoming.

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Information from: Devils Lake Journal, https://www.devilslakejournal.com

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