ISU Magazine

Volume 40 | Number 2 | Spring/Summer 2010

ISU-Meridian nursing students provide on-site health care for Peruvian sheepherders working in the Boise area.

Photo by Chris Gabettas

A Day in the Life

Spring 2010 Issue | By Chris Gabettas


On a cool morning in early March, 28 students from Idaho State University-Meridian’s fast-track nursing program drove to a world few of them knew existed 45 minutes from campus.

They spent the day with 14 Peruvian sheepherders on the Soulen Livestock ranch in Letha, Idaho, 40 miles northwest of Boise.

This is the fifth year nursing professor Betzi Quiroz has taken her students on what she calls the “Letha Home Visit,” a day to experience sheepherding and its inherent risks.

The herders, who speak Castilian Spanish and no English, are in the United States on work visas for three years. They make $800 a month and live in cramped ranch barracks, tents or wagons as they run sheep through west central Idaho.

Working side-by-side with the herders, students counted and fed more than 2,000 sheep, and built fences under skies that threatened rain much of the day.

In a few short hours, students were aware of the hazards of the semi-nomadic lifestyle—the constant exposure to inclement weather, the threat of physical injury, poor nutrition and the risk of illness from contaminated drinking water.

“I can see it’s a 24/7 job and exhausting,” said student Scott Davison.

Because many of the herders suffer from high blood pressure due to a high sodium diet, students returned in early spring to plant a vegetable garden. They encouraged herders to boil river and mountain spring water to kill parasites, and left them with first-aid kits—containing gauze, pain reliever and anti-bacterial creams.

Quiroz teaches that the best nurses and caregivers are those who take the time to understand the complexities of a community—whether it is Peruvian sheepherders, residents of a north Idaho mining town or families living in the heart of metropolitan Boise.

“Sometimes the lessons that stay with you the longest are the ones where you are personally involved, when you literally walk in someone’s shoes for a day,” said Quiroz, who was born in Peru and whose father was a sheepherder for nine years.

Neugur Pocomucha, a 28-year-old herder talking through a translator, said he appreciated the students’ help.

Student Phyllis McGaffick says the “Letha Home Visit” taught her a lesson about community nursing she’ll use throughout her career.

“You have to be flexible. Patients aren’t cut from a cookie cutter. Not every patient is the same,” said McGaffick. “You have to treat everyone as individuals.”