ALUM | Tate Locust, 2004

Paramedic and Future Nurse

Tate Locust came to Red Cloud during her sophomore year of high school and found a trusting, warm environment that broadened her horizons and prepared her for the challenges of college. She never expected to pursue a career in healthcare, but in 2008, a chance meeting led her to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). She found her calling in emergency medicine and set out on a journey to work as a full paramedic—soon to become a registered nurse. We sat down with Tate to talk about her education at Red Cloud, her path to the healthcare field, and her growing passion for treating those in need.

Tate, growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, how was it that you found your way to Red Cloud?

I was about 6 years old when I moved from Denver to Pine Ridge, where my dad and grandparents had recently moved. But I didn’t come to Red Cloud until I was a sophomore in high school. I wasn’t being challenged enough where I was, was skipping class, and I really wasn’t getting prepared for college. I’d heard so many good things about Red Cloud and what they do for their students. I was looking for more stability in my education—and that’s really what I got.

I was nervous to come to Red Cloud at first, but ultimately I found it was really a trusting, open, and relaxed environment. The student-to-teacher ratio at Red Cloud was so much smaller than what I was used to and I had some really incredible teachers. One of my favorite teachers Shawn Storer, taught social sciences. He really opened my eyes to the ways that people in the world are discriminated against. Your world is so small at that age, and he taught us an incredible amount about the struggles that people go through. We read and learned about leaders like Cesar Chavez, Che Guevara, and Malcolm X, and he had a really major impact on how I perceive many social issues today.

He made sure that we didn’t just look at issues through one lens—he would encourage us to look at things from different angles. He created a lot of discussion in class by asking us questions and then playing the devil’s advocate to get us talking. I really admired him, and still do to this day.

You played basketball—which ended up earning you a scholarship to college. What impact did that have on you?

During my junior year I was recruited by Williston State College in North Dakota to play basketball. Their coach came to the Lakota Nation Invitational that year to meet me and one of my classmates. And when I started my senior year at Red Cloud, I was accepted there with a two-year scholarship.

While studying at Williston, I wasn’t sure what to focus on. I thought I might want to be a dental hygienist but, after taking a few classes, I didn’t feel it was for me – which is ironic, since I’m now in the healthcare field!

After finishing my Associates degree, I actually moved to Denver briefly to start an electrical engineering program. My dad was an electrician and I always heard him talk about his work growing up. I thought it would be fascinating to learn to make solar panels and about renewable energy—but I didn’t have the financial resources at the time to continue the program. I moved back to Pine Ridge and starting working in a job that really didn’t make me happy. And then out of nowhere, two friends suggested I join them in taking a class on how to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)—and that really started me on the path to where I am today.

Being an EMT is so demanding—you’re called on to help people when they are hurt and injured, at some of the hardest moments of their lives. What a challenge!

Once I was certified, the very first call I went out on I was required to do CPR. I remember being so nervous on the way. I had studied so much, but everything is different when you’re in the moment. But on the first call, everything fell into place. Of course it was very sad for the people involved—but I worked hard and knew I had done everything I needed to do. The senior EMTs on the scene told me they hadn’t expected me to jump right in and not hesitate on my very first call; they said I did a great job. New EMTs are always nervous, but I knew this was something I wanted to do—to help people in those very difficult moments.

Once I realized I was where I wanted to be, I started pursuing a more advanced certification. I loved it so much and I wanted to be able to do more. There was an intermediate class that my co-worker was teaching, and that certification allows you to provide additional services like starting IVs. I eventually wanted to do even more, so I started at Western Dakota Tech and completed a year-and-a-half program to specialize in being a full paramedic. It was incredibly challenging, but I learned how to read cardiac rhythms and administer intravenous advance life support medications. It really expanded the types of care I was able to provide.

Healthcare was certainly your calling. So after years of working as a paramedic, you have decided to go to the next level and become a registered nurse (RN)?

Both of my older sisters are nurses so I started to think it might be a good fit for me, too. Oglala Lakota College was accepting applications for their nursing program and I decided to give it a shot. I had such a great foundation from my paramedic training, and that helped me to get started and be successful in the program.

During that first semester, I really questioned my decision about nursing. At first we focused more on theory and ethics, and while it is very important in being a nurse and interested me, my passion was really about actually providing care and serving people. I craved more hands-on work. We had exams every week and the program was really tough—but I stuck it out. And soon we started getting into the more practical, applied healthcare I loved so much as a paramedic. We learned about new subjects and specialized care, like pediatrics, med-surgery, and obstetrics—and that really helped me grow my skills and knowledge.

You’re nursing board exams must be on the horizon—we have every confidence that soon you’ll be practicing as a registered nurse! What are your plans and hopes for your future career?

Despite all the challenges, I’m so glad I stuck with this program and I’m so excited to become an RN. There are so many things you can do to help people through nursing: you can focus on emergency medicine, work in geriatrics or pediatrics, or focus on a specific area of care like renal and cardiac diseases. The options are limitless.

That said, given my years of work as an EMT and paramedic, what feels most natural to me is working in the emergency room, providing emergency medical services. While it can be incredibly tough, that work is what got me to love what I’m doing today.

Of course, there are days when the pain and sadness get to me and I question why I’m in medicine at all. When you get those tough calls—when a child has been injured or has died—that really weighs on you. Everyone in this field, including me, has their bad days.

But every now and then, you get a call or treat someone, and it reminds you why you do what you do. When you realize that you really helped someone and were able to take care of them and comfort them, that makes it all worth it.


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Photo: Courtesy Tate Locust
last updated: November 28, 2016