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From Minnetonka to Peru: A Nurse Without Borders

Minnetonka native Anne Snuggerud reports on her experience practicing nursing in Peru.

Some people say that life begins at the end of the comfort zone, and Minnetonka native Anne Snuggerud has, to some degree, abandoned hers. 

It’s been more than a week since the Minnetonka High School alumna and Marquette University nursing student arrived in Piura, a city in the northern region of Peruvian desert area, to care for its villagers and further her studies in medicine.

A rising senior at Marquette, Snuggerud is in the process of completing her undergraduate nursing degree. She and four classmates from her program traveled to Piura this summer to gain hands-on experience and receive credit for their Community Health: Theory and Clinical course, an otherwise semester-long class back at Marquette.

Snuggerud and her peers will be working at various sites in Piura, among them a hospice, a nursing home, an orphanage, and an emergency room. Snuggerud says they will also be visiting homes in villages surrounding Piura, assisting a medical team from Oklahoma with cataract surgeries, and working with patients at a drug rehab center. 

The students are staying at Santismo Sacramento, a parish in Piura built by a priest called “Padre Joe,” (he was born in Brookfield, Wis. and ordained in Peru). The work of Snuggerud and the others is based on the various programs of this parish that aid the sick and poor in the area.

It will be a summer chock-full of education and stimulation, even without considering Snuggerud’s having uprooted herself from all familiarity. But she has always wanted this, and is prepared and excited for the jobs ahead.

“When I visited Marquette as a senior in high school, it was shortly after the first group of students had gone to Peru. I thought that the experience sounded amazing and have been hoping to participate ever since,” she said.

She’s looking forward to practicing in her chosen field.

“I have always been fascinated with health;” she said, “being a nurse will allow me to combine my passion for helping others with my interest in the healthcare field.”

That’s one of the reasons she chose Marquette after finishing at Minnetonka in 2008. She said she found its nursing program to be “particularly attractive.” Marquette offers a four-year program to which applicants can be accepted right out of high school, as opposed to the standard two-year program to which college sophomores need to apply halfway through their time as undergrads. 

Effectively, she’s turning her dream into an actuality. But it hasn’t been easy work.

The departure for South America necessitated that Snuggerud and the others take a crash course on the theory information portion of their community health syllabus.

“We covered all of the information in five days,” said Snuggerud. “In Peru, we are fulfilling the clinical portion of the course.”

The beginning of the trip was spent touring Piura and the sites at which the students will be working, but since then the real work has begun. The first day of actual nursing care, Snuggerud spent the morning in the hospice, changing dressings on pressure ulcers.

“Most of the patients with whom I worked developed pressure ulcers from their stays in the hospitals,” she said. “According to Socorro, the hospice nurse, the hospitals in Piura do nothing to prevent the development of these ulcers. Once they arrive at the hospice, many of the patients have Stage Four pressure ulcers that are very painful and have little chance of healing.”

Luckily, Snuggerud and her fellow students are guided by a veteran. Marquette Professor Darlene Weis, leader of the program, has been involved in international health efforts for years. According to Snuggerud, Weis has traveled to over 75 countries. She began bringing a group of Marquette students to Peru three years ago and has continued to do so every summer.

But while Weis may already know the ins and outs of global health endeavors, Snuggerud is enjoying discovering them for herself.

For one, Snuggerud says she’s thankful for her time at Minnetonka because it equipped her for what she’s doing now. 

“I’d have to make a shout-out to the Spanish Language department at Minnetonka High School for teaching us so much about not only the language but also the culture of Latin America,” she said.

In addition to nursing, Snuggerud is also pursuing a Spanish for the Health Professions minor at Marquette. She said that living in Piura has been the perfect opportunity to apply the language skills that she has learned in high school and college.

“I have been surprised at my ability to communicate and have already had to act as a translator between the Peruvians and my classmates and others,” she said. “I’m hoping that this will become even easier as the time here passes.”

But more than a change of language, Piura is an entire change of scenery.

“It’s safe to say that Minnetonka, Minn. And Piura, Peru are complete opposites,” Snuggerud said. “Contrast big mansions lining the lake to lines of houses made of bamboo and mud with tin roofs, consisting of one room for both the family and their animals – chickens, goats, dogs, etc. – and a hole that serves as the toilet.”

Piura is in the desert, which means there are few trees and only tropical plants. It’s winter there, but it’s still 85 degrees every day.

A shocking change of weather, maybe, but mostly a culture shock. For Snuggerud, it’s not just nursing studies she’s pursuing in Piura – it’s culture studies, too.

What’s struck her most is the attitude of the Piurians. As much as she’s enjoying learning about the state of health in Peru, she’s also learning from the Peruvian joie de vivre.

“These Peruvians are living in conditions that most Americans would be shocked by, but they are the happiest and nicest people that I have ever met,” she said. “Almost everyone we pass in the street gives us a big smile and wave, and I have yet to meet someone new without receiving a hug and kiss. They accept their living conditions and are very happy with their lives. I think that we could actually learn a lot from the simple and hardworking lifestyle that this community leads.”

Piurians face a number of health disparities in contrast with the United States, though, due mainly to the widespread poverty.

“Some of the pressing health problems here include tuberculosis, with rising number of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, hypertension, many GI infections, due mostly to poor water quality, as well as various respiratory diseases due to poor air quality and cooking over charcoal fires,” she explained.

When she’s done with her four weeks of clinical work in Northern Peru, Snuggerud says she plans to spend two additional weeks traveling around Southern Peru. After that she’ll return to Minnetonka for the rest of the summer and find a job – “This trip wasn’t cheap!” she said. 

With regards to her plans after graduation from Marquette next May, Snuggerud has no definite plans. Prospects include more travels as well as careers in the Twin Cities metro area.

“I know that I am interested in pursuing a pediatric nursing career and going to graduate school after some years of nursing experience. I would love to spend some more time nursing abroad and my dream job is a nurse at Children’s Hospital,” she said.

Either way, she’s in the midst of gaining invaluable experience in nursing as well as in global citizenship. Snuggerud said that growing up, she always knew she wanted to work with people, which is why she chose nursing.

“Before arriving in Peru, we had one assignment: to make a goal for our experience here,” Snuggerud said. “My goal is to immerse myself in the Peruvian culture and learn from their lifestyle. I believe that this experience will teach me so much about myself as well as give me a more international view of healthcare and help me to provide culturally competent care no matter where I am practicing.”

Snuggerud said she loves being able to provide care to the disadvantaged in Peru, and would like to continue with similar projects after graduation from Marquette next year.

“I think spending a year or two abroad doing global work would be a wonderful experience. In the long run, though, I do hope to work in the Twin Cities,” she said.

But for now, amid her Paul Farmer-esque works and travels, this Minnetonka girl is making a mega-difference.

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