YKHC’s Rita Kalistook was named Distinguished Nurse of the Year at the annual March of Dimes banquet held recently in Anchorage. The award goes to nurses who have demonstrated leadership and expertise throughout their careers and is exemplified in the care, service, and advocacy they have provided.
March of Dimes says, “This is a nurse who gives back to the profession in diverse ways, setting a positive example for current and future nurses. She has contributed to the health and wellness of Alaskans or has had a strong positive influence on Alaska’s nursing profession.”
by Ann Glasheen, OB Nurse Care Manager, and YKHC Public Relations Staff.
A Nursing Legend…
I call Rita Kalistook a Legend in “The Bush.” She arrived in Bethel in February 1983, having graduated with a BS in Nursing in 1980 with only three years of experience. She soon found out that bush nursing would always be a challenge. The duties were many and varied, from setting up respirators to ventilating a critical newborn until the team arrived to transport the infant to Anchorage, to giving chemotherapy to an elder who wanted to stay close to home.
In 1986, Rita took on the role of supervisor on the evening and night shifts. Those duties included administering, coordinating and directing patient care services throughout the hospital. She also covered the emergency room from midnight to eight a.m.
Meanwhile, Rita worked towards her Master’s in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner, and graduated from UAA in 1990. In 1991 she started working in the Maternal Child Health and Family Planning Clinic at YKHC. She was passionate about giving good prenatal care.
Since 1993 she has been an instructor and Training Center Coordinator for Health Aide Training. As a Health Aide Instructor, Rita always puts the patient and the Health Aide’s needs first. She understands the demands, the lives and realities facing Health Aides in remote Alaskan villages. Rita always strives to give Health Aides the tools they need to competently care for their patients.
The students love and respect Rita, always giving high ratings for the classes she teaches, and often calling her for advice once they are working in their clinics.
Of her role as a Health Aide instructor, she herself says, “No one can take an education away from you. If you drop me off without a bag or as much as a dollar in my pocket in the middle of some street in Texas, I know that I will be able to get by with my education alone. This is invaluable, and this is what motivates me to continue to teach our Health Aide classes.”
She first met her husband Isaac Kalistook when she rented a house from him. They married in 1989 and they have three boys. Thomas is currently in his second year of optometry school after completing his B.S. at UAF. Zach works with the CHSB motor pool and Clarence is a senior at Bethel Regional High School.
When I look back at Rita and myself, at how many wonderful changes have happened in rural Alaska, especially the health improvements among infants, children and pregnant women, we are thankful for Immunizations, WIC, and good prenatal care and education that has helped keep these precious moms and babies healthy.
I am thankful for the arrival that day in February 1983 when Rita stepped off that plane. She has given so much of herself the past 30 years. She had to wear many hats and be as flexible as possible to fill in when there was not enough help and to creatively improvise often. I cannot think of a more deserving person to receive the March of Dimes Distinguished Nurse award than Rita Kalistook.