The Augsburg Podcast

The Augsburg Podcast

Katie Clark: A Passion for Progress

May 23, 2018

Katie Clark: ... after being at the Health Commons as long as I have, the people who are living on the streets have so much tremendous strength that the experts don't often know how to uplift because they don't understand it.

Paul Pribbenow: I'm Paul Pribbenow, President of Augsburg University. Augsburg educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. It's my great privilege to present the Augsburg Podcast. One way you can meet some of the faculty and staff I'm honored to work with every day.

Katie Clark: My name is Katie Clark. So I am an assistant professor of nursing and I've been here since 2009. I'm the director of the Augsburg Central Health Commons.

I always have been intrigued by the world and the cultures around me, and I had gone a mission trip to Mexico with a service learning group. We worked at an orphanage and I just had this desire to do more and think about what all was happening in that setting and I really wanted to go back. And through that I decided well, healthcare is probably a good route and nursing's a pretty, you know, stable job, and so, that's kinda how I decided.

When I finished, uh, my undergrad, I worked at the University Hospital in both oncology/hematology, and then I worked in the medical ICU. And every year I would save up all my vacation and I would travel to a country and volunteer. You know, you go there and you work really, really hard, for like, 14 days, right? You provide your Western care and your expert based medicine and- and working really, really hard. And you do that for a while and you realize, okay, I'm prescribing all these medications and people are taking them but they're sharing them with their family, or they're not taking them the right way, or they're selling them because they have nothing and this is the only form of monetary goods that they can use to trade.

Then you come back and you just start like, unpacking everything that you saw and realize like A, it's not sustainable, what just happened, B, like, I know nothing about why people are living or suffering this way. Um, what would people do for healing if we weren't there? What's the indigenous practices? And so I felt this sense of being just uneasy with the way things were and having a lot of questions.

I decided I was gonna go back to school. And I thought, "Well, I'll be a nurse practitioner," and one of my friends was like, "Did you hear Augsburg has a program now called 'transcultural nursing? And you can get your Masters and you can travel," and I was like, "Okay. Sweet. I'll go to Augsburg."

And so, I remember my first class. I was sitting there and the professor started talking about the role of money and how health is really so much of a commodification and we're so medicalized, and I was- it would- just like blew my world up. I was just like, "Oh my gosh, I have never thought about this." And then my second class, I went to Namibia with Dr. Cheryl Leuning, who's still here. We were learning from people who had multi-drug resistance tuberculosis in the bush and learning more about the HIV crisis, and we weren't doing anything. We were just learning, and I was like, "Well, I don't know if I feel comfortable with this either," right? Like, why are we not doing anything? We have all these nurses, we should be doing something.

And I remember asking Cheryl that exact question and Cheryl was like, "We are here to learn from the wisdom of the people who are surviving. There's nothing sustainable we can do in the two weeks we're here." And it was like, the light bulb went off and I have never left Augsburg since, I guess. (laughs)

So it just kind of changed my thinking.

The Augsburg Central Health Commons, which used to be called the Augsburg Nursing Center, was established 25 years ago. I mean, it's pretty amazing the small group of women that really came up with all these really radical programs that are very different, as far as the transcultural nursing emphasis. This is about the grass roots of what nursing is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about relationships and hospitality and being authentically present and listening and listening to understand, instead of having these interviews.

In the hospital we get into these technocratic skill sets that we have to get all these things done on a checklist instead of trying to understand the patient that we're trying to take care of. It's really thinking about how do you care about marginalized communities. Whether it's in local or global context. An accompaniment model, if you will, but really kind of asking people what they want for- from us, instead of us telling what's wrong with them and what they need to do because I have my doctorate in nursing, so I know your health better than you, which is, not working. It's not working.

So, people come in and they ask for a pair of socks, and most places that you go, you have to say, "Why you need something? Show your ID, can only get it so many different times." "Well, here's a pair of socks," you know? Because most people, their main mode of transportation is their feet. They're having used shoes or cheap shoes and if you take your shoes off, they're probably gonna get stolen, or if you take them off you're gonna get harassed by security.

And so, um, really thinking about letting people just ask a simple question, and then really thinking more about how to attend to the struggle and affirm strengths. The whole emphasis of, you know, being good to our neighbors, because we've been there. It's been sustainable. They see our faces on a continual basis and they know we're not there to get what we need and leave. We give them a small stipend of some sort.

So I think the trust impact, for just Augsburg itself, has been good.

There was some sexual abuse in my family that happened to me when I was very young. And I really struggled with that. And I think, for me, being able to first of all, be with a homeless youth, to understand the implications of having such an event like that when you're a child, um, on your adult life, and know that I'm not crazy because it happens to a lot of people. So I think for me, being here and having that shift, allowed me to heal. And it really allowed me to find my voice and figure out who I am and what I wanna do.

Being where we're at and moving into a University model, is a time where we can really like pause and think about all of this and also, think about what is signature to Augsburg. I mean, I think that the opportunities that we allow students to have, really makes them re-evaluate where they wanna go and what they wanna be.

Paul Pribbenow: That was Katie Clark, Assistant Professor of Nursing and the Director of the Augsburg Central Health Commons. I'm President, Paul Pribbenow, for more information please visit And thanks for listening to the Augsburg Podcast.