Simplified: Erica Lessman is a cancer education and outreach coordinator at Sanford who has worked for more than a decade to help educate Sioux Falls' diverse populations about the importance of regular checkups and cancer screenings. She sat down with Sioux Falls Simplified to chat about her work.
Answers are edited for length and clarity.
What led you to your current role at Sanford?
I've always loved the health field. I started out as a nursing major and then turned to social work. I happened to study abroad in Thailand for a semester and just fell in love with working with other cultures.
- Going into another culture where you don't know the health system, don't speak the language – it gave me a better understanding of what refugees and immigrants go through in this country.
- I've been at the job at Sanford for about 13 years.
What are your strategies for reaching out to immigrants, refugees, and people from different cultures?
Because I'm not working with one specific population, I had to do a lot of home visits and figure out what works with different populations, different cultures. It's a lot of trial and error.
- I was really leaning on interpreters and community leaders in those ethnic populations.
I realized I was kind of wasting my time if I wasn't trying to produce pictures and visuals.
- I developed a flip chart on my own that goes through the different cancers that I emphasize. It clicked better, and it didn't matter what the population was.
It's also really self-education on what's going on in the world and why refugees are coming here. But it's also getting to know other cultures and what they're struggling with health-wise.
What motivates you to do this type of work?
In a lot of the populations that I'm working with, prevention is just such a foreign concept. They're coming from a lot of cultures where they haven't had formal education or don't have clinics and doctors available to them. Or they don't even have insurance available to them.
- You really have to gain their trust.
When it clicks that, if I go in every year the liklihood of finding (cancer) earlier – it's rewarding to see them really understand the education part of it.
What would you say to folks in general about the importance of cancer screenings?
I cannot overemphasize the importance of finding a primary care provider and doing a yearly physical.